The Hidden Stories of Those Around Us

By Tom 4

Each one of us has a story. How much of your story do those around you know?

Earlier this week, I boarded the 7:15a train to Washington, D.C. from 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. As I do regularly, I found a seat, opened my laptop, turned up the volume in my headphones, and got connected so that I could do some work.

Like I do many times each day, I took a moment and scanned my Twitter feed. While scrolling through, I came across The Hidden Story, a video shared by FranklinCovey Company. (Since it can’t be embedded, it’s worth the extra click.)

For just under three minutes, I sat glued to my screen watching what would seem to be daily interactions with strangers whose worlds seemed completely separate, yet were amazingly connected at the same time.

Had the video not depicted what was on one’s heart, you’d watch what appeared to be people interacting with each other in a small town; the trip to the grocery store, the stop at the pharmacy, etc. Without seeing the heart of others on screen, it’d resemble everyday life for many. Without seeing the heart of others on screen, one might wonder what the big deal was or why it was worth taking a few minutes to watch.

But the video allows you to see a glimpse into each person’s heart. It allows you to see the hidden story within. The personal story on one’s heart…

  • Stayed up all night because her daughter was sick.
  • Wife passed away recently. Facing life on his own.
  • Last night he proposed to his girlfriend, and she said yes!
  • Her work hours reduced. Worried about paying her rent.
  • Ran out of medication for his depression.
  • Just learned his tumor is benign.

The Hidden Story then ends with amazingly powerful words…
“If you could see into the hearts of others, feel what they feel, understand their struggles, hopes, fears, and joys…how would you treat them? How would your day be different? Just another day?”

I’m not ashamed to say that I had tears streaming as I looked up from my screen in deep reflection.

Like I do on most train rides, I was sitting at a table, with two seats on each side. Sitting across from me was a Black man, probably about 50 years old, dressed professionally. Next to him was a lady of Asian decent, probaby mid-40’s, also dressed professionally. Sitting next to me was a caucasian man who appeared to be in his late 20’s, in a hoodie and jeans, wearing a hat.

It was the first time I really even noticed who I was sitting with. Granted I had been on the train for only about 20 minutes at this point, but it was the first time I really looked at the people who were with me at the table. With my headphones in and my laptop open, I had been oblivious to my surroundings.

I began to wonder what each of their stories were. Where they were from. Why they were headed to the nation’s capital. What was on their hearts. On the outside we all had noticeable differences, but on the inside I’m certain there were so many similarities.

In reflecting on the video, I began to think about the times where my own heart was heavy, but I did my best to fake it. The times my heart was hurting, but life had to go on. Or, the greatest of days and feelings of complete joy. The times I had gone through everyday life, smiling on the outside, yet crying on the inside. The times that some of the hidden stories in the video had been mine. The times that I had thought, “If they only knew… If they only understood…”

  • Like the days after my wife and I lost our first baby.
  • Followed by the days after we lost our second.
  • To the days following the birth of our daughter that we had longed-for.
  • To the days that followed learning of her potentially fatal food allergies, after running her into the ER screaming for an epi pen for the very first time.
  • To the days following the loss of a family member.
  • To the days that followed the birth of my little boy.
  • To the days leading up to and following my dad’s surgery, when he had to have a leg removed due to the struggles of his disease.
    …and on, and on, and on…

If they only knew… Maybe they would have understood why I wasn’t myself.

If they only knew… Maybe they would have understood why it wasn’t the most important thing on my plate that day.

My hidden story. Your hidden story. Our hidden stories.

It’s something each of us has, all at varying degrees, throughout our lives. It’s something that most people we pass in the grocery store, drive past in town, or walk by at work will never know. Yet, it’s something that will often consume our minds. It’s something that will undoubtedly consume our hearts.

Our hidden stories impact every one of us each day. Do we choose to see the hidden stories in those around us? Or, just inside ourselves?

As we walk through the halls of our schools, do we seek to understand? When others walk by… Do we see faces? Or, do we see hearts? Do we see data points and test scores, or do we see the stories and hearts of children? Do we see colleagues first, or the people that those colleagues are?

Do we have empathy for the hidden stories of those around us in our daily interactions? Do we have empathy for the stories we’ll never know? Do we have empathy for the hearts we’ll never feel?

Being an educator in and of itself is one of the most difficult jobs in the world. Being an educator and showing love for others, while your own heart is hurting, is an unbelievably courageous act.

The work is hard.
The work is stressful.
The work is emotional.
The work is exhausting.

But our kids are worth it.
Our colleagues are worth it.
We are worth it.

Never give up an opportunity to show those around you that they matter. You may just be the one they’ve been hoping for.

All for the kids we serve,

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Laura Witman

I was in Hawaii last month, a quick break after a work gauntlet, soaking up the beauty. I sat at a picnic table watching the sunset on a set of cliffs. A woman in her late 70’s joined me and started taking pictures of the sunset with her Ipad. We struck up a conversation and she started telling me about her life. She was visiting from the Midwest. Her son lived on Kona. She retired from a USPS job and her husband passed away. I shared my challenges with a mother both mentally and seriously physically impaired after an aneurysm and a father who was then both mentally and physically challenged with intense caregiving demands in his 80’s. We talked about our kids – I had two in college and a senior in HS. Her children had their own families and were spread across the country.

I’m in my mid-forties with my youngest of three leaving for college in eight months. I’ve been a mom more than I haven’t been a mom. It’s been a central part of my identity, And this woman looks at me with tears in her eyes and says, “My life is a blank now,” I’m teary writing this now. This hits me so hard, plays into my own fear of the impending empty nest, and breaks my heart. I had dinner plans. I canceled them. I spent the entire evening with her having dinner and listening to her stories.

She sent me a text after I left Hawaii thanking me for dinner and conversation, In part of it, she told me to “take care of YOU”, And just now, this morning, you reminded me that it is time to send her a text. And looking at her text again this morning, it reminds me to take care of me.

Thanks for sharing, Tom. We jump off cliffs or get pushed off of them when we take risks or face challenges. We often have to build our wings on the way down. Compassion, kindness, true friendships, and community make all the difference.


That’s beautiful, Laura. Thank you so much for sharing your heart. Hope to see ya soon!

Kathleen McCladkey


This post struck a cord with me and love how you shared your hidden stories. We all need to be more understanding and compassionate with those we know and don’t know.

Your questions about children, “Do we see faces? Or, do we see hearts?” reminded of a poem I wrote 25 years ago when my son was struggling in school. It was called “Find the Heart of My Child”. My hope is for educators to discover the heart of every child as that is where their hopes and dreams reside. That poem drives my work each day.



Thanks for sharing my friend!!

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