The night I was driven to confront myself, I was standing in front of a room filled to capacity. Up until that point, if I had to describe the one most valuable quality I could offer my clients and their families, I would have said that it was experience or skill, an ability to communicate or listen. But I would have been wrong. That SundayEvery seat was taken night in June, I was faced with the one thing of true value that I could offer, perhaps the most valuable thing that any of us can offer each other.

It was an annual conference for mothers, and every seat was taken. I wasn’t asked if I wanted to speak, but somehow it happened anyway. I was jostled towards the microphone and pushed without ceremony into the limelight. I stood and gazed at a hall packed with women who crisscrossed the diverse spectrum of our community. Each was a mother of a child experiencing some kind of labeled or nameless learning difficulty.

I stared out at the blur of color and emotion, and wondered how on earth I could address them. Echoing in my ears was the whispered line of the coordinator as she maneuvered me towards the stage, Just give them some support and inspiration. How might I achieve this at a moment’s notice? How could I express my admiration without being condescending, and even more so, how would I be able to offer any insight without being presumptuous? In that long-short moment before I spoke, the mothers’ faces flashed before me one by one in a dizzying slideshow.

At that juncture, I realized that the only tool I had was myself and my humanity. I could borrow from textbooks or cite experts, but if I wanted to communicate in a way that I might be heard, I needed to ground myself from within and talk as honestly as I could.

So I opened my mouth, heard the microphone screech into action and talked of my dilemma in speaking to them. I owned my worry of sharing insights when I myself was not in their shoes. I told those women that I could not begin to assume I understood their experience. I spoke for myself and on behalf of therapists of every stripe, saying, “Please help us to see your world, help us understand what it is like for you when your 6-year-old overtakes your 10-year-old in her learning. Share with us the mixed feelings you have when your child reaches a personal yet oh-so-delayed milestone. Tell us about your qualms, your fears; please share your triumphs. I owned my worry

“We cannot promise to fully understand, but we do commit to listening to you, to giving weight to your expertise and to trying to hear your thoughts and concerns.

“And please, teach us about your child, what he loves and what he hates, his favorite food and the cheeky thing he did over the weekend. We want to know your child.”

And that was all I said to them. It was endless and fleeting simultaneously, yet my watch marked just a few short minutes as I was whisked away for the speaker to begin her presentation. Apparently, my role was to fill the time, to keep the conference ticking along as frantic re-scheduling was conducted behind the scenes.

I don’t know if what I said was heard by anyone in that mass of individual faces, or if my words resonated with any mind or heart in that hall. But I do know that it profoundly affected me, perhaps an audience of one. In that terrifying moment of being unexpectedly on show, instantly stripped of my skills and experience, I was forced to locate my core.

“Love your neighbor like yourself” has since taken on a new sheen. We may be kaleidoscopic in our diversity, but at our core weAt our core we are extraordinarily alike are extraordinarily alike. If we peel back our differences, we can come face to face with another person, relatable and innately human, a person like ourselves.

I go back regularly in my mind to that spotlit position at the podium, and I allow myself to re-experience the sheer vulnerability. I feel my own humanity again, and that of all those women who sat in front of me, and from that place, I step forward to meet my day’s work. For I know now what I was not aware of then—that the biggest gift we can offer others is simply meeting their humanity with our own.