When I was about 12 years old, my grandfather gave me an old-fashioned sled that had been my uncle's when he was a boy. It was wood with metal runners and steering mechanism. It was a bit rusty, so the handles didn't move, but I wanted to try it out, anyway.
My little brother, who was around 7 years old, and I donned ourselves in multiple layers of quilted snowsuits, scarves wrapped around our faces, and elbow-high mittens and went to the highest hill in the area - the one that overlooked the football field at the local high school close to home. Back then, kids could go out and play without constant parental presence.
Lots of kids were sledding the hill that day with all sorts of sleds and gliders. We watched the various ways they positioned themselves to get maximum velocity as they glided down the steep hill. We decided that if I got on my stomach, then my brother could ride on top of me and hold on around my waist.
We pushed off and went zipping down the hill, laughing and feeling the cold rush of wind where our scarves didn't cover. It was great...until the metal goalpost got closer and closer and the icy surface and rusted steering mechanism made it impossible to steer the sled safely around it.
We crashed into the goal post, and my brother went flying off my back and onto the icy snow. Somehow I hit the goal post chin first. My first thought was of my brother's safety. Did he get hurt? I looked up, and he was sitting on the ground laughing and asking if we could do it again. With tremendous relief, I told him, yes, but we'd move farther down the hill away from the goalposts. The rest of the day was uneventful until we got home and I took off my scarf.
My mother gasped and left the room, returning quickly with an ice pack. She put it on my chin, which had turned black and blue and was several times its normal size.
Funny that I hadn't thought of this incidence for many years until I saw a recent post by a friend on Facebook who said she had fallen and hit her chin on the kitchen counter and was in a lot of pain. I immediately related to how she felt and remembered my experience.
If I had not had the chin injury as a child, I would have felt bad for my friend who had hit her chin, but I wouldn't have felt as connected to her injury without experiencing it for myself. Besides learning valuable lessons, like don't sled too close to a goalpost, our experiences can help us understand others.
If you've lived through a bad marriage, a job layoff, the loss of a beloved human or pet, or getting a flat tire on the freeway, you're much more likely to feel compassion and understanding for someone who has had a similar experience. There are consistent components in these types of circumstances that make them universally relatable. They have the ability to bind us and increase understanding.
The same goes for joyous circumstances like getting a promotion, a personal accomplishment, graduation, or the birth of a child. We can connect with others and share in their happiness because of truly understanding our own experiences. If you've never given birth to a child, it's hard to have deep insight into how the new mother really feels.
Through shared experience, even though that experience came separately and at different times, and may have variations such as exactly what we hit our chins on, we develop commonalities among those with similar experiences. In this way, the more types of experiences we have, the more people we can relate to and bond with.
When we meet a stranger, we may have more in common with them than we think. We may have undergone similar joys and challenges, enabling us to share our own insights gleaned from the situation. Our growth can occur individually and then expand by seeing that circumstance through the eyes of another. Seeing our common experiences and how our reactions to them are the same or different brings us closer and gives us ways to connect that can afford insightful interactions. With a greater understanding of each other, the way to peace can't be far behind.