I smiled at a woman standing on the corner, smoking, and she flipped me off. One heartbeat later I felt like a narcissist, viewing myself though her eyes, computing the gesture through her mind, “what the f are you smiling at, you Subaru driving b****?” It utterly bummed me out, but it made me think: This is just one elm seed fluttering onto a horribly messy situation. This is the downside of how we treat each other; it’s the burden of our human conditions; it’s the cost of trying to make eye contact. People split off, because joining up has caused them to suffer.
We live in a world where eye contact is a threat,
a smile carries judgment,
and people bristle, “why are you staring at me?”
We can’t effectively move through our urban landscape because touching things other people have touched is disgusting.
Curiosity is a liability. Gentleness is a risk. Kindness will leave you undefended against the hurt that is out there.
I teach YOUNG GIRLS and BOYS to honor the yucky feelings they might feel in their bodies, in certain circumstances.
To honor the feeling of uncertainty, the opposite of safety.
I teach them to use their voices, step back, and give themselves space to assess the situation, to yell “MOM!” or “DAD!” if someone new comes up to them in the yard.
I also teach them to smile, or at least look at, and nod to people they pass. I teach them to return and help a person if they bumped into them, to apologize and offer a token of good will if they have hurt someone. Every person matters.
These two lessons, side by side, are terribly confusing, but we live in a world of wonder, beauty, and confusing contradictions. It’s hard here. This is a wild place.
“Go play outside,” means something different now, to parents – it means get your watchfulness on, be vigilant, still your more rapidly beating heart. To kids, it means the same thing it always has – I want to go and play outside where there is fresh air, sometimes sun to feel on my skin, and dirt to make an enormous mess with.