I’ll never forget my first winter in Chicago and the time I tried to give a homeless person my coat. My boss stopped me and made me get on the train. I did not understand why he stopped me and I cried the whole way back to the office. He was protecting me. My kind heart over-rode common sense.
I moved to Tulsa seven years later and worked in the Bank of Oklahoma building on the 27th floor. They had an ice rink back in the 90’s and I’d go down there for coffee and breakfast. Every morning I’d see the same man with ragged clothes and I’d buy him breakfast. At lunch I’d sit by myself in the square and share my lunch and cigarettes with a few of the homeless men that hung around. My boss found out about it and made me stop. He said it wasn’t safe for a nice girl like me to be alone with these men. He thought I was putting myself in danger.
I shared that story recently with the wrong person and their response surprised me.
“Your boss was wrong. I mean you smoked. Obviously you weren’t a nice girl.”
They were so proud of their comment that they laughed. This wasn’t a heckler, I wasn’t even on stage when he said this. We were sitting at a kitchen table sharing dinner with friends. A heckler I can handle, this — I just smiled and changed the subject before getting really quiet and letting other people control the conversation. It’s an old survival skill from childhood, if you let them know they got to you they come back for more. I’ve learned how to hide crumbling.
Just because I can hide it doesn’t mean I don’t crumble sometimes.
Knowing what this man said is a lie doesn’t change the impact of his words. The committee in my brain is now in high gear, passing those words around like a cheap bottle of wine. “You’ll never fit in.”, “You can’t trust people.”, “He’s right you know. You are trash.”, “I’m never coming back here again.”
Every fiber of my being now wants to show this man how “not nice” I’m capable of being. Oh you think smoking is bad, wait until I tell you about the time I did thus and such! The committee is also offering up questions on his mother’s marital status when he was born as well as her emotional temperament. In 24 hours I ruminate every possible come back. They are wonderful come backs by the way, I’m always brilliant after the fact. The problem is those comebacks do nothing for my heart and just keep the hurt feelings going while Mr Idiot has no idea that I’m even wounded.
At this point, I’m the one wounding myself by repeatedly hitting the replay button on the DVD in my brain.
I want to stop the spiral. I try to read. I pray. I stare at my phone to call a friend, but it’s too heavy and then an amazing thing happens, I receive a Christmas card from a friend. Inside the card is a puzzle piece with these words:
“YOU GLOW and you do more than light up a room — you light up the hearts of all who are in it.”
Her card is postmarked several days earlier, and arrives just in time to soothe my heart and my brain. She doesn’t even know about the incident yet. I now have a choice, I can hit the replay button on the remarks that hurt me OR I can choose to believe my friend and her words of encouragement. So what if one man thinks I’m trash. He’s an idiot. I have a wealth of friends who think otherwise and their voices are loud enough to put the committee to rest.
It is said that silence equals approval. I neither agreed with nor approved of his comment and yet I remained silent. I don’t have to be quiet just to prove I’m nice. There is nothing to be gained by staying silent when someone lies about my value to my face. There are a number of acceptable responses that I could have used. My therapist says when someone throws a prickly pear at us (an insult), we don’t have to catch it nor do we need to throw it back. We can simply say things like “ouch” or calmly speak truth, “that’s not true about me.” Simple phrases like that stop most people in their tracks and give them the chance to clean it up.
I’ll try and remember that next time. In the mean time, I’m taking my puzzle piece from my friend and posting on my bathroom mirror. I glow, not only do I light up a room, I light up the hearts of all who are in it. — And so do you.
Question: How do you respond to thoughtless (or maybe not so thoughtless) comments? I’d love to hear from you.