Wednesday, June 12, 2013
I don't want you to turn out that way.
It is raining tonight in Chicago. The kind of thunderous rain that demands you turn off all the lights in your house and grab a cup of something, whether or not you drink it. The requirement for a dark and stormy night is a drink in your hand and viewing of nature doing its thing.
It was dark and stormy at work today. Not for long, but for a moment. The kind of storm that is a signal of things to come, a harbinger of paths taken and steps yet to be walked. Inner storm, mind you.
The conversation was innocent enough. A woman is at the cash register with her son. He couldn't have been more than 5.
Son: Can I buy some jewelry?
Mom: [eyes immediately down to her wallet] No.
Son: But moooom! It's less than $25, so can I have some jewelry?
Mom: No. [hands over money, looking at the back of the register, the PIN pad device, anywhere except my face]
Son: Mom. Can I just have this one piece of jewelry?
Mom: No, because I don't want you to turn out that way.
It doesn't take a rocket surgeon to surmise what 'that way' meant, but that was just the thunder. The real storm came in the brief moments afterwards, the ones that felt like eons of figuring and calculating...
How quickly would I be fired if I said something? Would there be anything I could say in defense of this child that would not leave me jobless? How long might it take me to get a job after I'm fired for telling this woman off? How much do I need this paycheck? How much money do I have in savings? Can I afford to be this kid's hero?
Here's the lightning... I did nothing. I said nothing. I looked at this kid and glanced down at my keyboard, because I knew that if I looked at that mother I'd not be able to hide my fury. My donning of his possible future issues with his mother, whose biggest worry in that moment was whether her small boy was going to turn out that way, jewelry and all.
I realize I'm assuming a lot. I'm assuming the woman's homophobia, though I dare say that's not much of a leap. I'm assuming she's the kind of mom that says things like this all the time. For all I know, it's the first time she's said it, and she didn't mean it.
But, my biggest problem, was that I said nothing.
Around this time last year I was faced with a situation that some of you keeping up with me on social media may remember. At the mall I was working, I saw a woman being manhandled by a man, not a big man, but a man. His hands were gripping her elbow, dragging her down the sidewalk. She was yelling at him to let her go. I ran up behind them, let the man know that wasn't ok, and asked her if she was ok. She looked at me, said she was fine, and his grip relaxed on her.
I have no idea where that woman is or whether she really was ok. I have no idea the secret inner workings of other people's lives. But, I know I felt powerless in that moment. However, at least I said something. I think the difference being that I was outside of work... I didn't have to cower in fear of being fired for Attempted Heroism in the First Degree.
The world doesn't want or reward heroic actions. Coming to the defense of this kid would have only taken a "and what way would that be?". And one phone call from her, and I'm done. Goodbye paycheck.
And it's sad, and it's foolish, and it's selfish. And it's the choice I made.
How would you react? What would you have done?
Wherever this kid is and wherever he goes in life, I hope he finds a hero. I hope he feels love and acceptance, whatever color of the rainbow he ends up being. Everyone has a right to feel loved, accepted, safe, and happy. That's my prayer for that boy, his mother, and that's my prayer for the woman last year.
Love and Lyte,