She was shy, fighting back tears, and desperately trying to understand what was being said to her. She didn't notice me waiting. Neither did he. I could see that she was being trained to operate the cash register, I could hear that English was her second language and one that she was still just beginning to learn. Her teacher, the man who usually ran the kiosk, was brusque and impatient in his teaching methods. Finally, he noticed me, greeted me, I made my purchase. She noticed me too, I saw the kind of 'fear of difference' look on her face that we, who are different, see all the time. She noticed me noticing and looked away quickly.
The next time I went to the kiosk, it's where I buy lottery tickets, or as Joe likes to say, our retirement strategy, so I'm there weekly. She had the same kind of shocked and fearful expression, her English was halting but noticeably better than the week before, she served me, I thanked her. She looked at me again, this time with a bit of curiosity.
It's been over a year now of going to the kiosk and buying tickets. Now, it's different, she chats with me when I buy the tickets and she smiles genuinely when the talk gets silly about what we'd each do with the money from a win. I know, when I go there, I can anticipate welcome.
I saw her yesterday, I was going by the kiosk quickly, aiming to meet Joe downstairs. She saw me and waved and smiled broadly. That was the first time I saw how beautiful she was. She was standing tall, confidently, behind the counter, her gaze was direct and her smile was unrestrained. This was a far cry from the shy young woman who I first saw on her first training day.
I'm writing about her and our first encounter because of how I reacted that first day. The stuff that moved inside me when I saw that her first glance at me, even in the midst of the emotional struggles she was having as she struggled to learn to use the register, was one of fear and, of course, judgement. I moved from the empathy I felt for her as I knew what it was like to be overwhelmed when trying to learn something to the antipathy I felt towards her for the invalidating look she gave me. I had thought to myself, "I can get lottery tickets anywhere, I don't need to go here."
But then I decided several things: I shouldn't have to change my patterns because of someone else's reaction to me; she was in emotional stress and this may have effected the lens through which she saw me; if I decided not to shop in places where this happened, I'd never shop. And then finally, I thought, "give her a break" and that's what I did.
She's grown and changed. She sees me as a full person. There is no hint of prejudice or fear or judgement in how we deal with each other.
I've grown and changed. I'm learning that sometimes my reaction to one thing isn't a reaction to one thing, its a reaction built upon that thing happening over and over and over again. I need to be careful to see one person as simply one person - not as a representative of a whole pile of other people in other circumstances who have done the same thing. I know, now, that it's not be job to educate the community, but even so, I do it by being disabled, being fat, being gay and living in the world - it comes with the territory, get over it.
All this to say, it was nice to see her yesterday.
And it was nice to be just seen.