Someone I know was walking her dog this morning, breathing in the crisp, fall beauty and wondering what today holds for her country. Like most today, she was in the midst of experiencing nerves and a general sense of frustration. Never has a presidential election felt so impactful; never have the options felt so polarizing or so dissatisfying.
As she thought, “At least I have time to enjoy the perfection that is this autumn walk,” a well-dressed young woman, passing her on the other side of the street, slowly and deliberately poured the liquid out of a large glass bottle and chucked the damn thing into the road, where it shattered and scattered hundreds of sharp pieces along the sidewalk and all over a half-block’s worth of asphalt.
“Excuse me!” the person I know yelled, startled.
No response, no slowing down from the young woman.
So this close personal friend of mine turned straight around and followed the young woman down the street. She wasn’t going to run after her, because a) homegirl didn’t wear a sports bra on this particular adventure, and b) her dog is large and scary and that’d give the wrong impression, and c) the young miscreant was wearing a backpack and clearly on her way to a bus stop or other resting place in the near future, so why run when they’d clearly catch up soon?
In her anger and moderate insanity, this woman followed the young lady for ten blocks, stewing and crafting a speech in her head. During the first five or six of the ten blocks, the speech contained a lot of f-words and how-dare-yous and many Italian hand gestures. After a bit, though, the news of the day and the general attitude of the country coalesced with this little event, and she began to feel depressed. Why would I contribute to the pit of nastiness everyone in the nation seems to have fallen in? It won’t do any good. People will continue their dumb shit regardless of how it affects others. She almost turned around.
But then the young woman entered a park and sat down with four or five buddies, lit a cigarette, looked over at her, and asked, loudly, “Can I help you?!”
And she walked up to the young woman and her friends, hearing the tale of her stalking offense told to the table of people as she approached. Then her heart assumed control of both her anger and her nerves and also perhaps her common sense, and (since awkward is how she operates) she had this VERY awkward conversation:
“Happy election day.” So awkward. Told you.
[No response, obviously.]
“I tend to make a lot of assumptions about people who break glass on purpose in my neighborhood. I see the bottles and think, these people who don’t care whether someone else has to clean up their mess, who don’t care whether my dog’s pads bleed, or whether kids get hurt, or whether bicyclists pop their tires on their way to work… I tend to assume these are bad people.
So I wanted to come and look you in the eye and see who you are and remind myself you’re human, too, and maybe ask why you felt like it was ok to do that.”
There was a resounding moment of silence and exchanged glances, and the beautiful bottle-thrower looked at her and said, “I’ve had a really bad couple of weeks. I’ve been dealing with a lot of anger and I didn’t deal with it very well. I didn’t think about how it would affect your life.”
“Well, it did. Someone has to clean that up now, so the sidewalks and street are safe and walkable.”
“Do you have any particular feelings about that?”
“I acted on impulse. I’m sorry I did it now.”
“Thanks,” the person I know said. “I’m glad to know you’re having a hard time – I mean, I’m sorry you’re having a hard time, but I’m glad to know you aren’t just some dick who doesn’t care.”
“Are you okay and safe? Can I do anything?”
“Nah, I’m ok.”
“How old are you, by the way?”
“All right. Have a good day.”
And the person walked away to the soundtrack of quiet laughter and mocking from the dumb-looking cool boys who had walked up during the brief conversation. (Real talk: does anyone look dumber than teenage boys who think they look cool? I submit to you that no one does.)
Okay, so, it wasn’t a perfect moment of redemption, nor was it a villain getting her comeuppance. It wasn’t the proudest moment in the life of the person I know, but she did leave feeling very happy she had looked into that beautiful young woman’s eyes and let her be a human, having a human day with human problems, the same as everyone.
Then she swept up the glass.
I don’t want to pretend a silly little personal victory is a big deal or represents a grand solution to life’s problems, but I think on this election day and every day that follows, it might not be a bad idea. It might make a difference in my life and on my block, to make eye contact with people who really bug me, to see them as human, and then to do a little bit of my own clean-up work.