The other day, at the Y, a lady got mad at me.
Her locker was directly next to mine, and she had her stuff kind of laid out all over, because she was doing her post-shower change. I live a few blocks away, so I never change in the locker room; I just take my stuff and get the hell out, because it’s hot and stuffy in there. I had no problem with this lady arranging her clothing and moisturizers wherever she needed to. Anyway, all I said was, “Excuse me.” In my mind, I was saying, “I’m just going to grab my stuff and get out of your way, because after all I’m not changing but you are, haha! So no need to move, pardon me, I’m running away now.” So I was trying to be quick, so I could get out of her way. But while I was grabbing my stuff she was huffing and sighing and whmmmphing. I couldn’t figure how why she was so mad, so I sort of assumed she was an angry person and I shouldn’t even address it. I took my coat and moved to the next aisle to get my stuff in order.
But as soon as I walked away she immediately started bitching about me to another woman, about how I hadn’t giving her a chance to move her stuff, how I was in such a rush and how impatient I was, how people are so thoughtless nowadays, no one thinks, no one cares, grumble grumble grumble. I was going to let it go and just leave, but I didn’t, I walked back and asked her what I’d done, because I didn’t see it. She immediately softened—as people often do when they’re forced to look into the faces of the people they’ve labeled as the enemy—and she explained her perspective, and we actually had a nice chat, and all was forgiven, and it was fine.
Except I felt bad. And I still feel bad about it. Not because of her, she turned out to be a genuinely sweet person who was having a crummy day, but it startled me, as it always does, how quick people are to assume the worst of each other.
It sort of astounded me that someone would read me as being insensitive—ME! The most Sensitive Person Alive!—but then I realized that people don’t know me, they project whatever the hell they want, just as I do to them, and I probably encountered the other most Sensitive Person Alive that day, but I was just as willing to pretend she was an old meanie who wanted to spread her unhappiness across the land. And it upset me to think that I could ruin someone’s day by just saying “Excuse me,” and how often had I blown past someone or accidentally bumped into them, and did that make them feel bad? I realize I’m taking on quite a bit of responsibility for everyone's feelings, but it’s true, those things can have an effect on you, those little jabs and bumps that are part of living in the city.
I’ve been feeling ever since like I should wear a shirt that reads, “CONTENTS ARE FRAGILE,” and actually that we should all wear that shirt, so that we can all remember to be kind to each other, because life can be so hard, and we’re only here for a little while.
If you’re a parenting blogger or avid blog-reader, you probably read the New York Times piece on “Bloggy Boot Camp,” and read the responses to it. I won’t add to them yet, but I did write a letter to the Times, and if it doesn’t get published, I’ll put it up here. If anyone questions whether there’s really that much hostility to moms and moms who blog, they should read the comments in the Motherlode blog at the Times. Or don’t read them. There is so much anger and derision directed at mothers, it’s truly staggering. We’re all narcissistic and neglectful and our children are awful. But how do they conclude all these things without actually reading a single blog, because after all they wouldn’t read us because we’re so disgusting?
Yesterday I received a bunch of emails from people who had seen my latest Redbook column on the MSN homepage. I didn’t know it was there, so I visited the site, where I made the mistake of reading the comments. And I learned that apparently I am the reason civilization is going down the toilet, and my child will grow up to be a serial killer. Ah.
You know, in both of these cases the comments themselves don’t bother me—I happen to know nothing they’re saying is in the least bit accurate—but it’s so sad to me that people fail to realize that they’re attacking actual human beings. Human beings whose lives they couldn’t begin to know. Or maybe they do realize that, and they don’t care, they feel so bad about themselves they want to make other people feel just as terrible. I’m not sure which is worse. I don’t think it’s my job to figure it out.
I was rooting around for comfort this morning, and I came upon a poem by Mary Oliver, one of my favorites of all time, so I thought I’d share. This is especially for Kate, beautiful Kate, one of the kindest people out there, who just lost her grandmother.
Some kind of relaxed and beautiful thing
kept flickering in with the tide
and looking around.
Black as a fisherman's boot,
with a white belly.
If you asked for a picture I would have to draw a smile
under the perfectly round eyes and above the chin,
which was rough
as a thousand sharpened nails.
And you know
what a smile means,
I wanted the past to go away, I wanted
to leave it, like another country; I wanted
my life to close, and open
like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song
where it falls
down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;
to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,
whoever I was, I was
for a little while.
It was evening, and no longer summer.
Three small fish, I don't know what they were,
huddled in the highest ripples
as it came swimming in again, effortless, the whole body
one gesture, one black sleeve
that could fit easily around
the bodies of three small fish.
Also I wanted
to be able to love. And we all know
how that one goes,
the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water.
You don't want to hear the story
of my life, and anyway
I don't want to tell it, I want to listen
to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.
And anyway it's the same old story - - -
a few people just trying,
one way or another,
Mostly, I want to be kind.
And nobody, of course, is kind,
for a simple reason.
And nobody gets out of it, having to
swim through the fires to stay in
And look! look! look! I think those little fish
better wake up and dash themselves away
from the hopeless future that is
bulging toward them.
if they don't waste time
looking for an easier world,
they can do it.