Small things mean a lot. I decided to come to this coffee house to do some writing for a show. I pulled into the parking lot, where an older man (older? Hell, he's probably within a year or two of me) was trudging across the lot to his car. The first empty space I saw was on the other side of him, so I slowed to a halt probably ten yards away from him. He looked up at me, and I smiled what I hoped was a "take your time, I'm not gonna run you over" way. He stopped walking, and squinted at me. I continued to smile and gave him a little wave, because maybe we had met or maybe he had seen me at a show or something. Hey, it could happen.
He rolled his eyes, sighed, and shook his head dramatically, in a "what-is-this-world-coming-to" fashion, and trudged on.
I continued to not run him over, which quite frankly, took a lot out of me.
So here I sit, writing about this instead of the fun, witty reminiscence I had planned. This is not the first time I've had men of his age react this way. It is, unfortunately, a fairly common occurrence. But this on was unusual in his exaggerated motions, and apparent confidence in my self-control. Or maybe not confidence. Maybe it was arrogance. Probably the latter.
And it's not just pasty, grumpy, out-of-shape men that do this, either. I get it from other folks, too, in different ways. Bright, brittle, wide-eyed "I'm-fine-with-it" smiles from middle-aged white women in dressing rooms. Angry, incredulous glares from older black women who stand in the women's room doorway and dare me to walk past them. Points and giggles from packs of teens in retail spaces. Shouts of "queer!" and the sounds of running feet behind me in the grocery store aisle. Men in cars and trucks yell something at me as they drive past. I'm not being coy. I have no idea what they're saying, because the doppler effect makes it sound like "nnnyyyeRRT NYYeerrrmm" as they drive past. I will sometimes shout "Thank you! I think my hair looks cute this way, too!" or something as they drive away. But I know that's not what's being said. It's just another drive-by hating.
And then there's the run-of-the-mill double takes I get all. the. time. as I go about my day-to-day existence. I see it all. I hear it all. And I've adjusted my life accordingly.
I don't look at people as I walk past nearly as much. I used to like to smile at folks as I walked past them if I was in a good mood, partially because I believe that one of the things I'm called to do in this world is to get people to lighten the fuck up. I've stopped that now. I don't even look at them anymore--I just gaze straight ahead, and even as I write this I realize that my ability to safely meet the gaze of strangers on the street was a gift of white male privilege, and it makes me sad that so many need to avert their eyes just to survive.
When I'm at meetings, or even in church, I now sit in the front row. Front rows are weird. No--front rows aren't weird, but our society's reaction to them is. As is our reaction to front-row sitters. At least, my reaction was weird: I'd think that those folks were suckups, or do-gooders, or the ones who wanted everyone to see them there in the front. Teacher's Pet. Or Preacher's, depending. As someone who's trying to make a living on stage, I can tell you I'm always grateful for front-row sitters. It's nice to be able to see faces and not just hear noises from way off in the distance.
I sit in front rows now simply because I'm tired of seeing heads turn to look at me. So I sit in the front and that way folks can stare or not and I don't have to worry about it. As far as adjustments go this one has its advantages: I'm closer so I can hear and see better, and if I doze off, from the back it just looks like I'm just praying. Plus I don't have to raise my voice much at all to heckle the pastor. No, really. I think it's important to find a faith community that shares your values. And one of my values is witty repartee. *
Again with the digression.
I'm struggling between two conflicting points that I want to make here. Or maybe they're different sides of the same point. And that is simply that I notice these things. Pretty much every time. And it hurts if I let it. Or, I'm hardening myself to this sort of behavior, which worries me, because I'm concerned I will once again harden my heart in order to survive. Or maybe I'm just upset because the emotions ambushed me. Usually I take it in stride, but for whatever reason--maybe because I was doing my best to be a conscientious person and was repaid with an insult.
Or maybe there's no point to this and it's just me expressing my hurt in order to deal with it. Or maybe it's to tell you this: If you're in the presence of someone who is visibly, unmistakably outside the parameters of "normal," assume they know this about themselves. Assume that they're just trying to live their lives as best they can and aren't there for your entertainment or judgement. And perhaps also check if your definition of normal is broad enough.
*For the record: I only heckle a little, and do it very judiciously, and never when things get serious, and none of it is mean. I'm a professional. Don't try this at home. Or do, if you think it won't hurt. I'm not the boss of you.
Photo by Daniel Páscoa on Unsplash