I believe God puts us in tough, uncomfortable, or extraordinary situations because when we have to react in a split second with no time to plan, we show our true character. It’s those moments that keep you honest with yourself, those moments when you find yourself either speaking up or keeping quiet, either running away to save yourself or jumping in front of a bus to save someone else, either catching something in mid-air or finding yourself frozen while watching it shatter on the floor. And afterwards you are left either proud of yourself or sad that you didn’t react the way you assumed you would in a situation like that, and all that is left palpable is your heartbeat pounding in your face.
I want you to know that while you have no idea who I am and we shared nothing more than a smile yesterday as you walked out of your interview, you passed me at the reception desk on your way out the door and your presence was felt long after our building was nothing but a tiny speck in your rear view mirror. You don’t know the exact details of what happened after you left, although it’s a horrible shame that you could probably assume, but after you left your interview and got on the elevator, I had one of those moments I described above. My character, my own words, were tested.
I had literally just finished writing these words in a post the night before:
I like to think I’m one of the good guys, though I’ll admit I have some bad habits like leaving things in places they don’t belong. For example, this morning I was looking for my coffee cup that I had just put down somewhere, I spotted it on top of the entertainment center in the living room, took a big gulp, and found out the hard way that today’s coffee cup was actually in the kitchen. Yum.
I find when I do things these days, a certain little person is always in the back of mind. Am I teaching her the right lesson? Is she going to pick up this habit from me? Is that a good thing? The girl is like a sponge – watching, absorbing, mimicking – and I want to teach her well. I want to show Summer how nice it is to live in a somewhat organized house, but I also want her to know that if the clean laundry sits in the laundry basket for a week, it’s not the end of the world. And if, instead of folding clean clothes, you were off somewhere digging in the dirt, enjoying life and smiling with your entire body while the fabric softener scent was slowly fading from your towels in a heap on the laundry room floor, well then, even better.
But above teaching my little one life lessons like how to put things back where they belong, how to make a mean German pancake, how to drive stick and how to pet the doggies gently, there are the things that are the most important life lessons of all, like loving people with your whole heart. Respecting people. Embracing others’ differences. Nurturing and supporting and encouraging others and surrounding yourself with people who do the same for you. The hard part about those lessons is not teaching them to her though, it’s how to counteract the influences on her from all the people out there who choose instead to tease and belittle and name call and stereotype and judge and take advantage of people with good hearts.
There was more to the post, a story about an encounter with someone in the Target parking lot and something or other about ratty yoga pants, but those first 3 paragraphs, I had no idea how those first 3 paragraphs were about to be put to the test.
Maya, when your interview was over, you came through, you shook his hand and said thank you to him, and you walked out the door. And your interviewer looked at me and he snickered. Now, I may be a great many things, but stupid is certainly not one of them. I knew what he meant with that gesture. I knew it came from a place of non-acceptance, from ignorance and fear of the unknown, from mean-spirited judgement. And it seemed so childish to me. That one little gesture of his stirred things in me. Anger. Heartache. Sadness. Anger that there are laws out there to protect you from close-minded people but those laws can’t protect you when you don’t have physical proof of what happens after you walk out that door. Heartache that you are someone’s baby and this man treated someone’s baby like they were not worthy of a part-time assistant job with crappy pay because they were different from him. Sadness because while I hope my acceptance is the norm, I fear I’m the exception.
Since becoming someone’s momma, I think about certain situations and how I would feel if it was Summer in them. What if someone thought my precious baby was qualified for a job on paper but met her, said no thank you, and made fun of her face or her clothes or her voice or her body like an ignorant coward behind her back as she walked out the door….well, now I have tears in my eyes just thinking about it. I wonder how the situation would have been different if one of his grown children had ever been in your shoes. Or his brother. Or his sister. Or his granddaughter.
He expected me to snicker back like he was saying, “can you believe that person?” and me saying, “totally.” Instead I looked him directly in the eye and I asked him what he was laughing at. Perhaps in his 69 years of living this life, he knew something I didn’t. And if he thought there was a valid reason to laugh at someone who was different from himself, I was going to make him explain to me what that reason was. My lack of reciprocity made him uncomfortable and he gave me a look of, “come on, you know…..” In that moment, to me his ignorance was so ugly and I didn’t understand how he could possibly think he was better than this person he just met, how to him, ignorant and ugly could ever be better than different.
He thought I wasn’t laughing with him because I didn’t see you. Oh, but I saw you. I thought you were beautiful. But he thought that I hadn’t seen you and so he said in a whisper, “She’s…transgendered.”
“And?” I said, because he had yet to tell me something that was funny.
He said some things, things that the universe does not need said twice, but he finally started to understand that my lack of response meant I didn’t feel the same things he did about you, and he asked me if I thought he was being too harsh. I told him I was afraid I’d end up saying something to him that I might regret. The regret would come not in the form of telling him how I felt, but out of fear of losing my job for letting my sadness run my mouth and insulting him. I don’t insult people. He told me he was a big boy and he could take it. So I took a breath, I treaded lightly, I looked him in the eye and I simply said to him, “I believe in respecting all people. I believe we are all equal. I don’t judge people for their differences, I embrace people for their differences.”
And his response was weak, something about him being old-fashioned, and then he walked away.
And I’m sad.
I’m sad that he may have just passed up the best assistant he’s ever had because you identify more with one gender over the other. Guess what? So do I. So does he. He is no different from you but he chose not to see past your clothes. I’m sad that when God put him in a tough, uncomfortable, or extraordinary situation, in that split decision he chose to push you down and out of the way to protect himself from his own fear of the unknown.
But I’m also happy.
I’m happy you didn’t have to work with him. I’m happy when tested by God that my split decision was to stand up for you. I’m happy that he avoided me for the rest of the day because it makes me hope that even if only for one half of one second, he doubted his own actions. I know your 20 minute meeting yesterday will probably have no effect on his way of thinking in the long run, but what happened after that 1 second I saw you as you walked out the door answered my original question. You taught me that the best way to protect Summer from the influence of closed-minded people is by teaching her that conviction through an open mind, empathy and love is stronger than words and actions founded on fear and ignorance will ever be. I’m not afraid of the influence of ignorant people on her anymore, I’m hopeful for her influence on them. And for that, from the bottom of my momma heart, thank you.