Life with Other People
The mother ahead of me moved on to sunscreen. After karate, this boy was going to day camp. "Once a day is not enough!" said the mother. "You have to reapply! Nobody is going to help you! You have to be responsible for your own protection!"
More nodding and trudging from the boy.
Next she brought up his scar, the one on his temple. "Mommy won't be there, honey. Your counselors don't care about your scar. Do you understand? You have to keep your scar covered at all times. All the time, got it?"
On I went, crying. That's all I could think of to do. The truth was, this woman wasn't physically abusing her child or verbally abusing her child. What she was telling him to do was to hurt people before they hurt him, to be responsible for his own protection, to keep his scar covered at all times.
I tried to tell myself, there was a lot of fear under these messages. Maybe something had happened to this mother that I didn't know about, something awful. Or maybe bullies were picking on the boy, and this was her way of trying to prop him up and make him feel strong. But I was never going to know what had happened. I was probably never going to see these people again—not even years later, the way I might fantasize about, when I would see the boy at age 10, playing softball on a team with my son, providing me the opportunity to casually suggest in between innings that there might be an entirely different way to experience life.
The truth was, I had to let that kid go, and let the mother go too. But I am getting older. I want to start understanding things a little more. I want to figure out how to live with other people whom I disagree with—not by trying to convince them of my point of view, or walking away because I can't convince them, but by feeling differently about the whole interaction. Let's say there's a Big Primary Mover up there—why did he/she/it show this to me? How I am supposed to go on and just buy a crappy decaf coffee and a bagel?
I stopped, right there in the street. I took off my sunglasses. And I cried all the way down the street—not hysterically, like a crazy lady, just quiet, subtle crying. Because I am not going to keep my scar hidden at all times. This may not be the best way or the only way, but it's my way to live with other people.
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