This is my reply to Deborah Bryan, of The Monster In Your Closet. Sorry, not good with the technical details of embedding links (hope it works)… She asked ¨Have you witnessed unkindness toward someone struggling? Have you witnessed empathy? How did you respond? How do you wish you had responded?¨:
I once was waiting in a very long line in the winter to get a new social security card. The line stretched outside and snaked around corners, and it was slow.
The cold was bothering me a bit, I have a high tolerance and I was glad it was not worse.
Far behind me in line, a woman was fussing over a baby in a stroller who had thrown up on herself. Not a spit up, rather a definitely sick baby. This made her innerwear and outerwear wet. It was too cold for her to wait an hour and a half in the winter outside.
I was standing with a friend of hers, chatting. She came up and asked what to do. I told her, through my friend, to go to the front of the line and explain she needed to get the baby inside and change her outfit. I watched her, standing there at the door, for a long time, patiently waiting for the people to move aside and let her in.
I couldn’t stand it. My new friend held my place and I went up and asked everyone there if they all spoke English. They did. I then asked, in my nicest Southern accent, if ¨y’all can let a sick baby in the door to get some clean clothes so she don’t get worse out here in this cold? I know y’all are nice people and can just move aside and let her get the baby in. Just one person, for the baby line. Please let’s help this baby.¨ and they moved.
So after an hour I get in the building. I go to sit with the mother and her baby and my new chatty friend.
An older ¨gentleman¨, well dressed, came up to me and explained to me that by letting the mother and baby into the building ahead of other people, we were robbing the rest of the line of their turn, and that the mother had this all planned out. That ¨her people¨ were always doing sneaky things like this, lying to us about things to get ahead. The man TOUCHED MY ARM in a bid to get me to empathize with him.
I just lost it.
I told him he cannot accuse a woman of lying about a sick baby when I am breathing in the smell of baby vomit. I said if he has a problem with helping babies, he needs to take it to the security guard. I told him I never forced him to do any good deed. If he has regrets, he can make a complaint about me and sick babies to whomever he wishes to.
He was taken aback. He assumed I had not understood him, that because I can speak in unaccented English and have a hue similar to his that I must be of his mind. He tried to explain to me, again, about the ¨sneaky¨ things ¨those people¨ do.
I got really loud.
I told him he can make a complaint over there, and pointed at the security guard. I thanked him for reminding us all that humanity is varied in it’s capacity for empathy and we all understand that he is a suspicious person. Thank you for letting us know. I waved him away, like a bug. He and his wife sat, huddled and trying to cover their jewelry for the rest of their wait (the social security office is in the ¨scary¨ city, and wealthy people here live in the safe suburbs). Incidentally the wait was, as they had no baby, shorter than the wait of the mother I helped get into the building ahead of them.
My poor new friends (many more nice ladies had joined us) were worried something was wrong after witnessing this exchange, and the young mother had the bag of soiled clothing out in case she had to prove the baby’s illness. They asked me what was wrong, and I told them in a neutral language that this older man had some sort of problem and it was an embarrassment to him, because he is probably from some hostile neighborhood and does not know better. Those nice ladies actually prayed for him and his family and wished him well. No lie. They knew, I am sure, and still they wished him the best. I did not.
I would have said far more to that man, but just before I made to do so, I looked at my new friends and saw their faces creased with worry. That is when I waved him away.
My state has horrible segregation in terms of race and economics.
A half hour later the man at the social security desk was complaining to me about how long the baby line takes, because foreign born people give their babies so many long names. I just nodded politely at the man giving me my social security card, with my new Scandinavian name on it, changed from my previous German name. All common names among the local English speaking population.
When he was done I stood up and waved at my new friends and yelled out a few farewell sentences in their language and then kissed them on both cheeks to show respect before I walked out. Because he probably needed a reminder that professionalism is appreciated and assumptions trip you up every time. I won’t hope he learned something about empathy. You need the capacity for it, see, or it never takes.
My own government invited my new friends here, as they were registered UNHCR refugees- in bonafide need. I think they have had it hard enough. I am sick to death of the bad attitude towards each new wave of immigrants, and racist rich old men can kiss my ass.