Before there were viral memes in social media, there were much slower-paced, smaller-focused “e-mail stories” – funny tales; “pass this on to someone you love” kind of content, often with a down-home, good-old-fashioned American values quality that made people press the Forward button.
Now, I’m a reader. There isn’t anything I don’t read. I don’t believe in “tl;dr.” I read them. I never forward them. If I have an opinion that I want to share, I’ll compose my own narrative, thank you. However, some of those stories actually stayed in my possession in one form or another – I adapted one about God and St. Francis having a discussion about the absurdity of suburban lawns as a wall hanging for myself, the year that my neighbors launched a “Let’s scare the over-educated depressive by threatening her dog because her failure to use herbicides leads to dandelions on MY LAWN” campaign. And “Lessons from Geese,” although overused, is still a favorite; I will re-read it and I will share its message (though rarely its actual text) with others. (Notice: no link. All existing internet versions of it seem to me to be missing something from the way it was originally told me.)
Today I got another one. They are rare in my mail now, because they are almost comically, stereotypically, the province of the AARP set (which of course I have now entered). However, as the baby of my family, daughter of the baby of her family, I am related to many members of this set. They don’t “Facebook.” They don’t blog. They’re far too frugal to use US postage for frivolities (heavily-underlined birthday cards are not frivolities). But they do e-mail. So today I got one. I love the person who sent it to me and the person who sent it to her. Let’s get that on the record first. However, I am undeniably aching and sad now that I have read it. It contains this passage – I have no author to cite; no attribution, and I am sorry, but I must quote verbatim:
I wasn’t sure how my customers would react to Stevie…He was short, a little dumpy with the smooth facial features and thick-tongued speech of Down’s Syndrome. I wasn’t worried about most of my trucker customers because truckers don’t generally care who buses tables as long as the meatloaf platter is good and the pies are homemade. …The ones who concerned me were the mouthy college kids traveling to school; the yuppie snobs who secretly polish their silverware with their napkins for fear of catching some dreaded ‘truck stop germ’; the pairs of white-shirted business men on expense accounts who think every truck stop waitress wants to be flirted with. I knew those people would be uncomfortable around Stevie so I closely watched him for the first few weeks.
Two days ago I was driving one of my mouthy college kids home from school. Her family life is challenging, but she is often laughing; a bright, unforced laugh of genuine delight. I knew her three weeks before I was brave enough to ask her if she was laughing at me or merely near me. Turns out she was taught, by her plain-spoken, hard-working mother, an employee in the social services field, that finding joy even in the hard times is a good road to peace. They don’t have a lot of money and (obviously) they don’t have a car. Circumstances beyond their control, that could have happened, and do happen, to everybody around here, have kept them from becoming what our narrator so glibly refers to as “yuppie snobs.” And the fact that it is a single parent household, run by a woman, prevents that woman from matching the definition of a “white-shirted business m[a]n.”
Yuppie Snobs? Business Men?
Mouthy College Kids?
So we were driving home from school. She’s crashing with me Mondays through Thursdays until the car situation gets resolved; because The Bus (yes, America, I said that in the singular) doesn’t run from her home to our school; she could change to The Other Bus, but The Bus and The Other Bus are not synchronized, and, as you can tell from the number of them (one each) there isn’t Another to Catch Later.
A driver in a very large, very loud, very un-muffled black pickup (I don’t know the make and model; and I don’t care) felt like tailgating me. I attribute motive even though I was not inside driver’s head. I base motive on the fact that I was going 40 down a road marked Speed Limit 40, a winding road (Welcome to Warren County; straight roads would be an indication of a bend in the time-space continuum) and a steep road (Welcome to Warren County; the hills have names) and the grill of this Truck, gleaming chrome like horizontal teeth, like a wide receiver’s mask, flashing in the early evening light, entirely occupied my rear view mirror. I instinctively slowed. The Truck’s engine growled as the driver downshifted. I signaled and slid to the shoulder; caught my breath as it roared past.
Rude? Yes, but so what. Dangerous? That’s more to the point, but still, I am a competent driver with thirty-five years of experience; I handled it just fine; safely. Mouthy college kid was more scared than I was but that’s normal; three years’ experience to my thirty-five. Stereotypical? Not in the least. Pickup trucks travel the windy, steep Warren County roads in legion and manage not to tailgate me or roar past me on a daily basis, even when I am stupid and go forty.
I deliberately did not make any assumptions about sex of driver, race of driver, age of driver, or even attitude of driver. It is just possible that driver really was in a terrible, possibly even life-altering, hurry. Driver’s method of letting me know that left something to be desired, I will grant you; and since we are not in a court of law I will admit that I assume there was some malice, or meanness, in scaring me even if driver’s reasons for hurry were sound, even valid.
Stupid truck driver.
Mouthy college kid.
Overeducated yuppie who, having just gotten through a weekend of four people giving each other germs and subsequently reversing the normal digestive processes in a house with three toilets, likes clean forks.
Business [wo]man who happened to be wearing a white blouse.
I live, breathe, eat, sleep, college kids. I feed, educate, chastise, advise, and love college kids. I married a business man in a white shirt (monogrammed cuffs, too; you wanna make something out of it? Nineteen-inch neck and thirty-eight-inch waist meant custom-made shirts, and monogramming was free, so there. Ha.) I have a Master’s Degree, the Yuppie Enrollment Certificate. I spell better than most truck-stop waitresses, but beyond that offer no superiority in form or function. This may be just a personal thing; an overly-sensitive woe-is-me thing, but I nearly cried at the thought that old people I loved were passing around an e-mail that contained barely-concealed prejudice against college kids and clean people with jobs – assuming their sympathy, empathy, Christian charity, whatever – was inferior to Truckers’. Inevitably, demonstrably, even dangerously inferior. Me. The white-shirted bleeding heart who never met a marginalized group she didn’t want to defend against hate, bullying, and oppression. Who once went over a dining room table at one member of the e-mail’s delivery list because of a casual comment about “Mexicans” while my white-shirted monogrammed business man held on to me and begged me, out of love and Christian charity, not to make a scene.
I ache at the thought that my education, the very thing that made me the compassionate person I am today by opening my heart and mind to the history, wisdom and literature of the human experience, makes me more likely, in some people’s eyes, of bullying or abusing a mentally challenged person. That my job, or my shirt, or my dislike of grease stains, makes me a more heartless, cold, and ungenerous person than a Trucker. I could fling those assumptions back if I liked, at a community of people not well-known for their tolerance of any nature of non-white men. Still and all, I’m going to breathe deeply and assume that the truck driver on Brass Castle Road really had to make a doctor’s appointment at 6 pm.