Monday, October 21, 2013

Putting the Ass In Assumption

A few months ago I was having a really hard time.  I didn't feel good physically or, you know, the other one (fine, I'll say it, emotionally).  I decided to cheer myself up by going to a movie.  This is something I've done my entire adult life.  I sneak away to a movie in the middle of the day by myself.  I always pick something scary or dumb and I sit in the dark eating popcorn and M&Ms, trying to forget about what's bothering me.  It usually works.  Most of the time, I exit the theater feeling better than when I went in, even if the movie is terrible.

So, this particular day, I left the theater and immediately got in line to validate my parking.  I wasn't really feeling much better and I was ready to go home, frustrated that my go-to self-medication had failed me.  It was a really long line and people were getting angry.  I'd been standing in line for about ten minutes when I finally got up to the front.  That's when a woman with two misbehaving children approached me and said, "I'm just going to cut really quick here, okay, I mean I have kids and you're, well," then she gestured to me, alone, in all of my aloneness.

I was stunned.  By the time I'd recovered myself, she'd already gotten her parking validated and was trying to convince her children that leaving the lobby of the theater and going home would be a good idea.  I didn't say anything to her on the way out but I found her to be the worst type of person there is:  self-important, assuming and completely devoid of empathy.

If anything, I have too much empathy.  It's not unusual for me to read a Facebook status update written by someone I've never met about the death of a cat I've never met and cry for an hour.  It's one of my best/worst traits.  I could easily look at the woman and see that she was in a hurry, she was tired and frustrated, and she was, in that moment, in over her head and probably wishing she could use a stun gun on her kids.  And, you know, I like kids.  I have four awesome nephews.  Most of my friends have kids who I enjoy spending time with.  I do my share of taking care of kids.  So, I get on some level (as much as a non-parent can) how desperate she was and why she didn't want to wait in line for ten minutes.  And, if she'd asked me if she could cut, I would have let her, even if it meant pissing off the people in line behind me.  Because I get it.  Because I can put myself in someone else's shoes and know what they're going through.  It's an undervalued skill.

But her rude implication that her time and, more disturbingly, her life was more important than mine simply because she procreated really pissed me off.  The fact of the matter was that this woman chose to have children, she chose to take them to the movie theater, knowing that this outing could involve un-fun activities such as standing in lines, and she was ultimately the human responsible for their terrible behavior in the lobby.  I mean, kids act up.  Even great children with great mothers act up.  And I'm not saying it was her fault they were being terrible.  I'm merely saying it wasn't mine.

The woman knew nothing about me other than that I was by myself in a line.  I could have twenty kids at home.  I could be dying of an awful disease.  I could have had twenty kids who died in twenty separate horrific accidents. I could have a phobia of children.  I could have been in a hurry to get to an important date with a Los Angeles Laker.  I could have been one of her kids' future teachers or the doctor who would someday save her life.  She didn't know.  She treated me like nothing because I was nothing to her, just an obstacle to what she needed.

And, okay, I wasn't any of those things.  (I don't even know any basketball players!) What I was that day was sad and she made me sadder.

I hope I've never treated anyone like that.  Your choices are your own and other people should respect them.  I chose not to have children.  I choose daily to be nice to people.  I choose not to cut in lines and to hold doors open for mothers with strollers and to chit chat with old ladies in elevators about the weather.  And that day, I chose not to say anything to the woman because it seemed pointless.  But, I'm saying it here because I've thought of that moment often over the last few months and I think what it really boils down to is that we don't know what other people are going through.  We don't know what's happening in someone else's life. We never do.  So, we have to be as kind and as fair as possible and we have to stop making assumptions.

And, holy shit, we have GOT to stop eating so many M&Ms in movie theaters, you guys.

*photo from quartercenturysouthernliving.