Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Quiet Lesson Learned

Gentle Readers:

I am privileged to introduce you to Tessa Armstrong, our across the hall neighbour. Though we have been on friendly, neighbourly terms since we moved in, we've recently been chatting more and have even had our first date - tea for three. A couple days ago, Joe was chatting with Tessa and she told him a story. Then he told me. I immediately called Tessa and invited her to guest post on Rolling Around In My Head. So here's what passes for chit chat between neighbours here in Rolling Land. Tessa, you're on:

On Yonge Street, there are many of this particular type of store... colorful and varied purses and totes and luggage that seem to spill out onto the sidewalk from doors that are almost always wide open. Things hang on hooks from above and bulge out of bins. The items aren’t ‘high end’ but they are fun and interesting and often useful

I stopped at one of these inviting stores recently. There was a step, so I couldn’t get in on my scooter, but the cash desk was clearly visible. The sales person was there and no customers, so I smiled and waved and called out that I would like to see that red purse!

The man came out and I noticed he wasn’t smiling, but I did smile and said I would love to see that purse up there and if he had anything else that size.

Well.. he said NO!

He raised his hands and in a shooing motion indicated that I should leave!

He said “You are blocking the door on that thing. I don’t want you here. I can’t run back and forth for you. GO AWAY!”

And he kept shooing me.

I… I rolled away.

Usually, I am not shy and will say what needs saying. I have even been called aggressive on occasion. But I was embarrassed, and defeated, and teary-eyed as I rolled up the street. It got me in a way I had not felt in the two years that I have been using a scooter. Logic tells me I have nothing to be embarrassed about and it was his problem.

But this time, logic just didn’t make it ok.

Two days later, I was in the local large supermarket. There are many check-out lanes, but only one really accommodates my scooter. The others are too narrow. Unfortunately, the one lane that works for the scooter happens to be the Express Lane 1 – 10 items.

So, I rolled on over with about 20 items. There was no one behind me on line at first. When a gentleman arrived, I explained that this was the only lane I could use and asked if he would like to go ahead of me? He said no, no problem and I started unloading my things onto the counter.

I saw something out of the corner of my eye and turned to see a tall woman walking quickly right right up to me.

She said, very close to me and quite loud.. “This lane is for 10 items or less, can’t you COUNT?”

The guy behind me said “it’s the only lane she can use” and I (Looking UP at her, which I hated) said, “You can go ahead of me if the others agree. It IS the only lane I can use”.

She responded “Well, That’s sounds damn convenient to me” and stomped to the end of the 4 person line.

I just dropped my head for a moment, and said softly “that is embarrassing”

The cashier started muttering just under her breath “embarrassed .. you! not you dearie,, some people have no manners” and on she went... making me really chuckle.

The man behind me asked if he could help with the bag-into-the-basket maneuver and met my eyes, just shaking his head once as if he was embarrassed.

As I left I looked back at the women who had spoken and she lowered her eyes... and I understood! At that moment, I understood what these two events were about, at least for me.

I understood that not speaking back can be a powerful, effective and hopeful response to rude, even bullying behavior.

The woman lowered her eyes. She was embarrassed. There is a hope that woman was embarrassed enough to not do it again. I don’t even have to hope that she understood... she just may not wish to look that bad again.

I thought back to the purse store, and I no longer wished I had blasted him. I do wish I had calmly looked at him, and waited for him to turn away before i left. Perhaps it would have made him think.

At that moment I understood that I will not ever be mean back. Not ever, if I can help it, unless the confrontation is physical or someone else is being treated badly.

And I understood that I had done the right thing. If I had said one word in defense or protection, the woman in the grocery store would have a reason to be rude next time, and would have another story to tell about ‘those people’

Now she doesn’t

YAY me!


Mo said...

I don’t even have to hope that she understood... she just may not wish to look that bad again.

Me, too! Understanding is way to much to hope for from some clods. So, like you I'll settle for any form of social control over behaviour that attempts to diminish my rights and my personhood. Brava!

Roia said...

Thanks for a lesson in how to deflect the shame people feel a need to hurl on to others rather than owning it for themselves and finding more useful ways to process it.

Way to go, girl!

Anonymous said...

I think the lady in the grocery would have acted that way to anyone if she had the opportunity -- regardless of your scooter. Hopefully many will benefit from her lesson.

I commend you for handling the situations with grace. The quiet lessons often resonate the longest.

Kristin said...

Thanks for the reminder that handling a situation with quiet grace can be much more effective than vitriolic anger.

Anonymous said...

I suppose some people have a need to try to belittle others to make themselves feel better...... A sad state, for sure.... Thank you for the reminder that there are times when silence has the loudest voice. You sound like one classy lady.

Tessa said...

Thank you all very much for your comments. This is a first for me, and I am very touched by your words.

And thank you Dave, for the opportunity to do this.

FAB said...

Yay Tessa!

freedomnan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shannon B said...

Yes, well done. From the Bible (somewhere): 'a soft answer turneth away wrath', and I believe there are coals of fire mentioned, too. I'm glad that at least she had the grace to be ashamed of herself.

(Deleted comment left by me under the wrong name - sorry Dave!)

CJ said...

I would not have been able to hold back.

Anonymous said...

way to go Tessa!

I agree with the person who said, this woman would have acted that way regardless, as would that guy.

You do have to wonder how these people made it to adulthood without someone rearranging some of their vital bits!

Quiet grace is indeed a fine thing, but I would back it up with hoping that womans eggs broke on the way home!

Kirsten said...

I think that Tessa's words embody what maturity and grace is all about.

There are many lessons here including humanity to another human, tact, poise, self respect and strategic thinking. All wonderful traits that can be used in all facets of life.

Way to go Tessa for yet again teaching me and others valuable life lessons.

FridaWrites said...

Great post, Tessa! I've also just not responded in similar situations, though there have also been times I've had to assert myself. If the purse guy was not the store owner, speaking to the store owner would be in order.

FridaWrites said...

I also meant to say I'm a scooter user too.

You're right that being mean back will cause people to develop prejudices/stereotype, though it's a response to other's discrimination to people with disabilities. I've found that even gentle assertion can be misunderstood and reported entirely differently from what I've said! Like when I nicely asked someone to stop bumping me (it was repeatedly, standing too close), because it was hurting me, turning my seat (which I leave unlocked so I can get in and out).

I always like reading what other scooter users write--there are a few issues that are a little different from what wheelchair users experience.

Anonymous said...

Tessa, I admire the fact you were able to not punch the man and the woman in the nose. Me, I am agressive and I am not alway proud of that , a quick temper that reaches out and strikes out when I feel I am mistreated.

I have no handicap, gosh maybe I do, my temper ~! I admire ppl who have the strength to have a higher goal to think outside the box and to be like super woman... great job Tessa ..

Catherine L said...

Yay you!! Thank you for providing such a powerful lesson of grace, dignity and integrity. What a beautiful and moving piece of writing!

Anonymous said...

yo girl, there are lots of ways to take power - you seem to have discovered the most effective one! good luck not clobbering or spitting in the future!