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Growing up, Mama kept my cousins Darrell and Melissa after school and all summer. She carried us along on all her shopping excursions and errands in our trusty 1968 Pontiac Catalina.

For some unknown and illogical reason, the worst, most embarrassing place in the world for her to take me shopping was K-Mart. I would beg, “No, Mama, please don’t go to K-Mart! Let’s go to Sears! Or Zayre’s! Anyplace but K-Mart!” I guess I didn’t want my schoolmates to think we were poor and couldn’t afford pricier places to shop.

My pleas fell on deaf ears.

It must have been Christmastime because, Lawd ‘a mercy, the place was packed. My worst fears were realized as I recognized a classmate from school. In full blown stealth mode, I slid into the middle of a circular clothes rack and hid, trying not to breathe. Relief flooded my soul as I peeked out through the women’s blouses to find the boy apparently hadn’t seen me. Crisis averted!

Quiet as a church mouse, I waited for him to head to a different department. A SWAT team armed with tear gas couldn’t have gotten me out of that clothes rack until then.

Much to my horror, a booming voice came over the loud speakers:

ATTENTION K-MART SHOPPERS!!! ATTENTION K-MART SHOPPERS!!! Would DEE BUNTON please come to the front desk!? Paging DEE BUNTON!  Please come to the front desk! Your cousin Melissa can’t find  you!

Oh the shame!! Melissa had me PAGED?! Now not just the boy in my class, but everyone in the whole store knows I’m here!

I was still shook up when Daddy got home from work. I tried in vain to explain why I was so upset. Didn’t they know that boy could go tell everyone at school he’d seen me there?! I’d be the talk of the entire 6th grade! Daddy said,”Why would he go tell people you were poor enough to shop at K-Mart? He was there, too!” I couldn’t see past my own selfishness to understand that logic. All that mattered was someone at school knew our dirty little family secret — we shop at K-Mart.

The boy never spoke of it as far as I know, and neither did I. Maybe he didn’t want it made public that he was a fellow K-Mart shopper. Maybe he was proud that his family took advantage of Blue Light Specials. Maybe his world didn’t revolve around me and he never gave it a second thought. Either way, my fragile 12 year old reputation was spared a painful death!

Several years and a measure of maturity later, I had graduated from college and gotten off my parents’ dime. I was home for Christmas and needed to pick up a few more small gifts. Naturally, Mama and I went to K-Mart.

When we came back, Daddy said, “Oh, you went to K-Mart, huh?! Did you hide in the clothes rack!?!”

“No, Daddy, I didn’t.” *Insert eye roll* — he was a funny guy.

“I see how it is. When it’s MY money, you hide in shame. When it’s YOUR money, you waltz in like you own the place!”

That pretty much summed it up! I didn’t give a flip who saw me at K-Mart when I was the one paying the bills!

It was all about perspective, you see. I wasn’t able to understand my parents’ point of view until I was in their shoes, many years later. Having the benefit of age and maturity, Mama and Daddy wisely refused to spend hard earned money on a more expensive place to shop just so I wouldn’t be embarrassed. That’s a surefire way to raise a spoiled, materialistic child.

Many times we don’t understand what someone else is feeling, thinking, or going through until we ourselves are going through it. The much greater, more noble task is to be able to empathize with the plight of others without having to experience it yourself. I was way too young and immature to be able to say, “Aw shucks. Who cares what people think about me at school?! My daddy works hard for the money!”

When I was in the Valley of the Shadow of Death/the Dark Night of the Soul, there were a couple of people that had been less than gracious to me who later ended up going through a divorce themselves. One came back to say she just didn’t understand until she’d actually been there, and she sought my forgiveness. I cut her some slack — knowing I most likely have done that to someone else myself along the way.

There were others who were supportive from the get-go, putting their arms around me and comforting me with, “I’ve been there. I know you feel heartbroken. I lived through it, and you will too.” It gave me hope to see others had survived, when I wasn’t sure I would.

Then there were those who had NOT been in my circumstances, yet they were able to imagine what it might feel like. Their kindness and support made quite an impact on me both emotionally and spiritually. And equally as important to me are those who have genuinely been glad that I have found a happy, joyful life again, and have told me so!

Oh the heart of a soul who is able to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, even if they have never and maybe never will walk in them —  to find a way to empathize with someone else’s pain and heartache, joys and successes, and be able to feel it in their own hearts.

Can you do that? Can you ascend to a level so deep that you can feel what others feel? Can you see their pain, or their elation, and imagine their perspective? Sometimes, empathy and compassion are what we all need most.

Romans 12:15 says,

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

All sorts of emotions encompass everyone in your life, day in and day out. Try to imagine their circumstances, see with their eyes, and feel with their hearts. If they’re grieving, grieve with them. If they’ve gotten some great news, be happy not just FOR them, but WITH them. Give them a call, send them a card, an email, or even a text. A nice pat on the back goes a long way.

There is something supernatural about stepping outside your own circumstances and into the life and heart of someone else. It makes us expressly human, and somehow we find its a better world for us all.