The goodness of people (or lack thereof).

Despite my snark and sarcasm and at-times judge-iness (is that a word? No? It is now), I really do believe in the general goodness of people.  I believe, against all logic, that people have good spirits and souls and hearts and have a deep, basic need to connect to others in a meaningful way.

And then I get confronted by drunk, college kids.

I got home last night around 12:15, and there was no parking in my building’s lot. You know, the off-street parking I pay for, monthly.  I drove down my one-way street, looking for alternative spaces, of which there were none, due to all the excess snow mucking things up. So, I circled back into my lot, and created a sort of non-space, that was obstructing an already snow-blocked sidewalk. I got out, and saw 6 guys and 1 girl walking my way, clearly fueled by an evening of Monroe Avenue boozin’.  The exchange went like this:

Girl: Excuse me, but you’re blocking the sidewalk.

Me: Excuse ME, but I live here, there’s no parking and I am 5 months pregnant.

Girl: Ooooh, sorry…just trying to look out for your slut, knocked-up ass.

Entire group erupts into laughter, and are now within feet of me.

Boy, getting nearly right into my face, yells  “SLUT!” at me.

The sudden gesture, and his entrance into my space caused me to lose balance on the uneven snow, and I fell back into a fairly large snowpile. I didn’t get hurt, but given the shock of all I immediately started to cry, and they all just continued laughing and went on their way, still yelling things over their shoulders. Now, I share this with you not for you to feel any pity, but because I fundamentally can’t wrap my head around what would allow them to feel as though they could do or say any of that.  Nothing in my  heart would ever, EVER permit me to feel as though I could treat someone that way, alcohol or not.

I take issue with the girl, for violating all that I find sacred between women, with her attempt to demean and humiliate me. A stranger she doesn’t even know.  To paraphrase Tina Fey in Mean Girls, a woman calling another woman a slut or a whore just makes it OK for men to think they can call you that.  A silly example, perhaps, but it’s fundamentally true.  And for that boy to feel entitled to enter my personal space because I’m a woman, to invade me that way, and call me something that tries to subdue me, intimidate me, made me wish for things to occur to him that I am not proud of, in the clear light of day.  And for the rest of them, complicit in their laughter, their unwillingness to do the right thing, and call their friends out, is also highly foul to me.

The thing is, it’s hard not to understand how people develop such hardened hearts when it comes to the world-at-large, when there are things like this happening  everyday, and on much more severe levels.  I laid awake last night, still fueled by adrenaline, and felt alternately grateful and horrified by the fact that I’m naive enough to believe that people wouldn’t do such things.  I’m so sheltered from experiences like that, and I wonder now if that’s a good or a bad thing.  I want to keep an open heart, I don’t want to grow fearful or resentful of others, but I also don’t want to hold a blind eye to the fact that people can be kind of shitty (and that’s a charitable description).  And how I help this child we’re having navigate a sometimes nasty world with the strength and fortitude to defend him/herself, and be a force for good, in all situations?

I witnessed a very small, yet still hurtful, example of unprovoked hate last night-which is the very worst variety.  And I believe those are the seeds that produce the large-scale atrocities that we see around us-because no one does anything to stop it.  It’s virulent if left unchecked-even if it seems harmless enough.  So do me a favor, my friends…and join me in doing the right thing, and committing to be more proactive about  being that force for good the world so badly needs, even when it’s hard.  Because whenever something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us.

Love in a Soup Cup.

The question was posed recently-when did I think I first understood what love meant? I thought for a second, about the typical responses that question might elicit-from my parents, the first time I fell in love, my first experiences owning a pet (or a plant,even). For me, though, the answer came immediately…and was something far different.
A few summers ago, I was spending some time in DC, working. It had been a rough couple of months for me, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more uncertain about the direction of things than I was at that point. Nonetheless, I had been working incredibly hard, and when an unforeseen afternoon off presented itself, I decided to brave the stifling heat to go play in the city. I walked through the park near my hotel, the same one I walked through each day on my way to the train, and came upon the usual midday cast of suits and the homeless, bustlers and old men playing chess. As I looked ahead, I saw a crowd gathered, near what appeared to be a lunch truck and a few tables set up on the sidewalk. As I got closer, I realized that there were a few people serving food, to anyone who was interested. For free. There were no conditions-if you were hungry, they would feed you. And while no money changed hands, what was being exchanged was humanity. All those park inhabitants, people who would typically never regard one another, found themselves engaged in conversation. Tethered to their spots by overflowing soup cups, they were forced to slow down…and in doing so, really see the others around them. And it was all because three people decided to feed others.
Anyone who knows me, knows what high value I place on the idea of the unifying nature of food, of nourishment, and its natural communal effect. So, it’s not surprising to know that I was so fulfilled by bearing witness to what was occurring. I slowed down myself, to people watch, and then I looked down at the curb next to the truck. There sat a woman, who was presumably one of those involved in the planning of this impromptu meal on the sidewalk, and next to her sat a man. This gentleman was reed-thin, clearly without adequate means to care for himself, and could barely hold up his head. Drool spilled intermittently from the sides of his mouth. His eyes were bloodshot, and his hands were dirty. And that woman was slowly feeding him soup, pausing between spoonfuls to hold his hand, to talk to him. What I felt I experienced in that moment was the most radical, pure act of love I had ever witnessed in my life. It threw me off balance for a moment, and I swallowed hard to keep from crying. Tears came anyway. The woman met my eye, and I realized I had been looking a bit too long. She smiled at me, I returned the gesture, and kept moving.
I thought all afternoon about what I had seen that woman do for that man. That man who maybe she knew, maybe she didn’t, but regardless, she fed him. Nourished him, without condition. As someone who has devoted her life to serving others, particularly those who are most vulnerable to the things which are most devastating in this world, I knew then that replicating that act of compassion and love had to be a central driving force in my work, my life. And yes, it’s incredibly hard on some days, when people act in ways that feel less than deserving of that love. But I remind myself that reciprocity is not the point. The point is that my responsibility is to make each life in which I enter just a bit better than it was before I arrived, and to do so without expectation of something in return.