By Samantha McKenzie
Many, many moons ago, I worked a short stint at an African-American art gallery. It was sort of layover job after having my first child – a transition period between maternity leave and finding a new writing gig. The gallery was located in the city’s cultural arts center which was unofficially managed by a seasoned woman named Mrs. Murphy.
Mrs. Murphy was actually the housekeeper in this three-level building, but she was a central figure. She came to work with a smile on her face, and greeted everyone with genuine pleasantries. Her shift started around 4 p.m. each day and she spent a portion of her lunch hour teaching me about this “thing called life,” she used to say.
Mrs. Murphy shared hundreds of colorful stories of her childhood, growing up in the south, meeting her husband of 35 years and sacrificing her education to raise her two beautiful children. She was in her late 60s, and as you can imagine, had a fresh take on mostly every topic.
She was a happy woman who was proud of her journey. She had a great personality, an extraordinary relationship with God and the wit and wisdom of the sages. I drank from her spiritual cup often.
One day without invitation she said, “Samantha, people will always talk about you. But let ’em. Let ’em talk. They may be jealous, they may be intimidated, they may be afraid. God only knows, they may just be lonely. Most of the time they are just talking about you because they’re unhappy with themselves.”
“But that is their cross to bear, not yours,” she added. “Don’t worry about what others have to say about you, you just keep doing your best and looking straight ahead.”
I have carried that message with me since that day. Her words of wisdom seemed to immediately lighten my burden. I did care what others thought of me, and I did spend time second guessing myself because of it. I mean, at that age I just wanted to be liked, you know, by everyone. It didn’t matter though, because people still talked.
Mrs. Murphy’s advice arrived at the perfect time and prepared me well.
I started to worry less about what other people thought.
I tuned my ear to positive things and used time for more important ventures, like raising my child and planning our future. And they still continued talking.
I left that job after one year. Mrs. Murphy retired shortly after and we eventually lost touch. She gave me many more lessons within that time – from raising children, to finding my joy and then some. She reminded me to make the best out of my choices. She pushed me to give people something good to talk about, like success. She reminded me that life would provide me with my own share of burdens, no need to take on someone else’s.
Nowadays, I set my sights on what’s important. And I can only imagine that there are still people who are talking. I often hear Mrs. Murphy’s voice in my head, “That’s their cross to bear, not yours.”
Keep living and let ’em talk.