"Oh my! You were standing so still I thought you were a mannequin!" said the bleary-eyed man in the store of sleep deprived and grouchy people. No electricity will do that to a crowd. Such is the ice storm we are recovering from and that is the reason I was standing so very still in the corner of the pharmacy near the windy freezing automatic door that day - charging my cellphone.
All the chargers had been sold. All the milk had been sold. All the cough medicine had been sold. All the batteries. As luck would have it, one lonely stoplight on one lonely icy corner still remained functional and this small lucky store happened to be on that corner. People flowed in and out constantly, some in their pajamas, most looking tired and weary after a day and night with no power - and me - trying to charge up my phone so I could call and check on my mama. They were kind enough to let me use their outlet. But there was no chair. I had to stand up for an hour watching all form of humanity (and some former students with a "Hi, Miss Mimi!") file in and out as they were forced to look at me.
I was bored.
In a pink fuzzy hat and pink fuzzy gloves
by the automatic door
that blew in icy visitors
Then I gave him a Queen wave and froze it midstream in the air.
Have you ever seen a perplexed and frightened look on the face of a stranger? He speechlessly scurried away and didn't wave back.
I got some strange looks, there in the small town charging zone. A little boy about eight-years-old towed by his grandmother smiled and winked at me. "Don't talk to it," she said as she pulled him out the door away from the crazy pink hat lady.
I followed people with my eyes like those spooky movie pictures on the wall, trying to stand as still as possible, stretching my imagination to its limits. Why not? I hadn't been on a self-imposed story-seeking adventure like this one in a long time.
Soon my hand had to drop to my side and a very tall and lovely man with a furry hat struck up a conversation as he waited in the checkout line. "Charging my phone," I said. "Ohhhhh...," he laughed. And we shared a few storm stories and chit-chat before he left into the setting-sun sky with bottled water and chips. Except for the perceptive child and one other lady who offered her house and wood stove fire until the power was restored, no one else said a word.
Oh, what a great blog post! And then the wind changed as a strange new revelation began to dawn. Perhaps I'd been cold, sleepless and in the dark too long. Or perhaps....
Time to be still again. Only 21% charged said my cellphone screen. It was going to be awhile. After a few more minutes a new crop of cold and hungry townspeople staggered in. Based on the curiously wary looks I received, it finally occurred to me that perhaps people thought I was a homeless person standing by the door just to be inside a warm building. Two plastic bags at my feet, a purse, and a long black coat with mud-splashed tennis shoes from the trek down my slushy driveway. Yep. I looked homeless.
This must be what it feels like.
A spectacle. Pitied. Avoided. A person to yank your children away from. Someone whose eyes you didn't want meeting yours. How cruel it must be to watch families shopping together when you have no family of your own. How hurtful hearing the ring-ring of the cash register as the food you might desperately need is slung across a privileged counter as money counts from a privileged purse. I wondered. How do people go on?
What did I care? Most were just strangers to me anyway. And even as I thought that careless and prideful thought the pink hat on my head began to bristle with shame. Would I feel the same if they'd been my colleagues? How much stronger the indignity when the undignified is known. Or maybe it's just that I see all humans in have and have-not groups instead of members of the same human race. Do I?
But it wasn't so much the uncomfortable rumblings inside me, it was the way people chose to either look away or throw disdainful darts, until the dance became awkward, as if my own quiet stillness was their invitation to judge that which was different and apart. But strangely and perhaps more enlightening than anything else, I began to consciously build a wall between myself and those who stared at me. I had to. Like bullets bouncing off a shield...she's strange, she's different, why is she standing there, what does she want? she's surely up to no good, I hope she doesn't try to speak to me, go away go away go away.... such were the thoughts I heard in the minds of my townsmen as they struck painfully 'round the bottom of my not-so-spiffy coat. The voices in the silence said more than I wanted to hear. I didn't belong in their world. And they clearly didn't want any part of mine. I might as well have been on Saturn instead of standing in the midst of my neighborhood.
Even as the windy cold blew shivers up the bottom of an unbuttoned coat in my pretend-homeless world, I knew that one friendly smile or nod could have kept me connected to the rest of the world, instead of coaxing me into caged-human status. One human connection would have meant more to me than a few dollars in my hand. And it stung deeper than the chill of the ice outside.
How far away are each one of us - everyday - from actually being alone and homeless....
Not that far, actually.
One job loss. One death. One health crisis. One market crash. One set of spiraling circumstances and it all comes tumbling down. You - and me - might be the next person standing behind the drugstore door.
I left with my fully-charged phone of privilege, two bags of luxury snacks, extra cash from a modest but adequate bank account, a pink-hatted head full of humility - and one little tear that fell when I opened the door of my very own car.
I will make an effort, said I... as I drove through a town with no lights or cafes or gas stations working...to really look at people and not turn away. I will remember how it felt behind the door and I will try not to judge my neighbor based on where they stand, even when I don't understand, because I can't possibly know what lies beneath their hats or where they've been in their muddied-up shoes.
Join us for BlogBlast For Peace Nov 4, 2014