Okay, it’s true; I’m milking this broken collar bone for all it’s worth! Or at the very least for another blog, another lesson…this time one in judging favorably. It’s always a huge reminder to be careful in judgment when you are the recipient of (clearly unfair!) negative perceptions.

In this case, it was a simple trip to the grocery store that triggered the reflection. Of course, nothing is so simple these days. It was actually my first time driving since my fall (you would not have wanted to behind me, especially if you were in a hurry) and I have a big shopping to do. I still can’t lift “anything heavier than a coffee cup” (to quote the orthopedic surgeon) so I brought along assistance, my son who was conveniently home on a college break.

He put all the items in the cart, especially the 10-pound bags of all-purpose flour and bread flour. I wasn’t being extra careful; I was following doctor’s orders. (Did you know that patient compliance is actually the most serious challenge physicians face in trying to heal their patients?) That wasn’t so bad because no one was really watching and it wasn’t so unnatural for him to do the heavy lifting.

Then we got to the checkout counter. I stood there immobile while he unloaded the cart (Okay, maybe I placed a few small items on the conveyer belt). And I just stood there as he packed all the bags (it’s a no-frills store), loaded up the cart, pushed it out the door and then piled all the groceries into our trunk.

No one followed us into the parking lot but I was aware of the eyes on us as we checked out. Maybe I was just being super sensitive or self-centered (both definite reactions to my injury) but I couldn’t help but feel that people were judging. Why was I just standing there? Why wasn’t I lifting a finger? Of course, it’s nice that my son was helping but was it appropriate for me to just stand there? I wanted to explain about my clavicle.

Let me interject here that for the first two weeks after my fall, I was wearing a sling. But for reasons I have yet to fathom, and despite the fact that the break showed no sign of healing, the doctor ruled it no longer necessary. So there was no outward sign of my injury. I assumed that the rest of the shoppers must think I’m lazy, a controlling mother, who knows what was going through their minds…

The truth is that they probably weren’t thinking about me at all. Most people are too busy with their favorite subject – themselves – to waste too much energy on others. But I was concerned with the impression I was leaving. I was fearful of being judged. I thought that my behavior would be frowned upon.

And it made me think about times I may have been the one on the other side, wondering why a guest wasn’t more helpful at dinner, a friend just sat there as I was struggling with packages, my children’s friends didn’t make a greater effort to clean up their mess. Yes, it could also be just laziness or bad character, the same qualities I’m sure others were imputing to me. But maybe they too had a good reason. Maybe they too had an injury that needed to heal, a wound that I couldn’t see and so I therefore assumed didn’t exist.

I have a friend who had a heart transplant many years ago. She has a handicapped parking sticker for her car. She doesn’t look handicapped. Some outsiders may think she is trying to game the system. But she has an internal issue that requires a parking advantage. We just can’t see it. It’s hidden to the naked eye.

Everyone has challenges – some physical, some emotional, some psychological – and many of them private. Before we make assumptions, and particularly before we judge others as inadequate or worse, we need to remind ourselves that we don’t know the full story. I give you permission to use my broken collarbone as a cue; I know I’m going to.