My first article was going to be a rather ranterrific piece about the clueless insensitivity of some ethnically privileged people, but given some of the flames that have erupted here lately, and my own reopening of certain childhood wounds, I thought it might be nice to post something featuring kewt, fluffeh kittehs and bunnehs and yewnicornses wif sparkully liets in their hornses …
Okay, not quite:
As I was riding the L one evening, a woman seated near where I was standing looked up and smiled at me. I returned her smile without really thinking much about it. A few minutes later, when I happened to glance her way, we exchanged smiles again. Her second smile was noticeably longer than the first, but what I really noticed was the way she looked at me. If “maternal” is too strong an adjective, then let’s say it was the sort of look an affectionate aunt might give a young nephew.
As the train approached its next stop, the woman came over to the doors by which I had been standing, and again gave me that “affectionate aunt” smile. Then she held up her hands in a gesture consisting of her fingertips touching, forming a sort of “O” shape with her hands, and in something less than a whisper said, “Peace.” Well, I tend to be a “when in Rome” kind of guy even if “Rome” is some stranger on a train, so I repeated her gesture and said, “Peace” to her. She then indicated through a series of gestures and lip movements that she was mute. (She didn’t use any formal sign language and I don’t understand any, but it was quite clear what she meant.) Then, as I began to wonder whether her actions were a prelude to begging for money, she held out her hand as if inviting me to shake hands. When I proffered my hand, she clasped it in both of hers, then silently mouthed out, “Bless you. Peace.” Just then train stopped, the doors opened, and with a squeeze of my hand and another warm smile, Peace Lady, as I have referred to her ever since, got off at that station.
Something I have never been able to explain happened to me then. As I have told friends since, it was as if Peace Lady had somehow put some sort of feel-good spell on me. For some reason, I suddenly felt really good – and I mean REALLY good! – about the world and the people in it. I found myself looking at the people on the train and thinking, “There is so much good in these people! Yes, yes, people can totally suck sometimes, but there is so much good in them!”
A couple of stations later, I got off the L and walked a few blocks to a bar where some musician friends of mine were playing that evening. Along the way, I kept looking at people on the street and thinking, “There is so much good in these people! There has to be!” When I arrived at my destination, my friend Diane, a member of the band that was playing there, ran up to me and gave me a hug. She then held my shoulders, looked into my eyes very intently and said, “Wow! You look…I don't know, you just look so…happy! It’s like your face is glowing or something!” I told her it was hard to explain, but that we would talk about it later.
I have often said that I am as much of a Humanity Fanboy as The Doctor is. By and large, I have always considered our species, for all its faults, to be very promising (and "quite my favorite species"). What I felt that evening, though, was a wild, giddy, euphoric optimism about This Wonderful Thing Called Humanity of which I was so fortunate to be a part! Somehow, this thought process was sparked by three words, an affectionate smile, and a hand clasp from a woman I had just met on the L.
By the next day, the euphoria had worn off, as, I suppose, I knew it would. Strangely enough, for someone who has often been accused (usually in a tone of exasperation) of overanalyzing everything, it was only then, not on the day of my encounter with Peace Lady, that I really started to wonder just who Peace Lady was, why she had chosen to bestow her cryptic benediction on me of all people, and why her actions had affected me the way they had. Yet my state of euphoric optimism had not stopped me from thinking; I was, in fact, doing a lot of thinking that evening, but it was all about how much hidden, unexpected good there can be in people. It was all I wanted to think about that evening.
After a few days of puzzling over the who and why of my experience, my thoughts turned in a different direction. It occurred to me that it would be a shame to let this beautiful and unique experience be nothing more than an interesting story about some mysterious woman who had somehow induced visceral warm fuzzies in me for a few hours. I felt that I ought to do something that would somehow perpetuate the good she had done, but not by duplicating her actions. Going up to strangers and wishing peace upon them is…not quite my thing (o hai Mr. Construcshun Wurkurr …). Eventually, it came to me: whenever I had the opportunity and was comfortable in doing so, I would let others know of the good I saw in them, paying particular attention to people who might be unaware of their own good. I think this approach had a powerful appeal to me because I know all too well how it feels to be told, day after day, year after year, that one is an utter disappointment who will never amount to anything. This new mission – if that’s the right word for it – seemed like a way not just to create a lasting legacy to Peace Lady, but also to work against the negative influences that have caused so much damage to me for so long.
I am pleased to report that every so often, I manage to get over my own self-absorption long enough to act upon my high-minded resolve. I would like to tell you of one such occasion (which I think I can do without getting anyone trampled under a herd of teal deer).
While standing in line at a grocery store, I noticed the cashier cheerfully talking to the three people at the head of the line in a manner that gave me the impression that these were close friends of hers. I soon noticed, though, that she seemed to have the same easygoing rapport with every customer. Sure enough, when my turn came, this cashier and I were talking, joking, and TMI-ing like old friends. After my third encounter with this very pleasant cashier (a huge understatement), I was in my car, about to pull out of the store parking lot, when a Peace Lady moment hit me. I got out of my car, went back into the store, walked up to the service desk, and said that I wanted to let management know about the exceptional performance of an employee. Dude handed me a postcard-sized form that asked for my contact information and contained a “Comments” section. I don’t remember the exact wording of the comment I squeezed into that small space, but it went something like this:
I meant to follow up to see whether Lori had been commended by management due to my feedback, but I never got around to it. Then about a month later, Lori sent me an e-mail saying that her boss, Larry, had posted my commendation on the bulletin board and brought it to the attention of the staff. She went on to say, “Thank you for telling Larry that I was always friendly to you and brightened your day. It brightened my day to read that. I don't always get compliments for doing my job and being kind to people so it is terrific to hear that someone appreciates me for doing that. I read on the card that you have only been in my line a few times so it is nice you would take the time to fill out a compliment card. I also recently noticed the email address on the bottom of the card when I looked at the bulletin board again. I just figured you wouldn't mind an email. I thought saying thanks would be a nice way to start the new year.”
It was indeed a nice way – a VERY nice way – to start to my new year, as was the ensuing friendship that developed. Yes, Lori and I are friends now. That is an unexpected gain beyond measure, because nothing is more important to me than friendship. For this friendship, I am indebted to a woman with whom I had once briefly interacted, whose name I don’t even know.
Thank you, Peace Lady. I wish I could tell you what a wonderful person you are and what a great influence you are on me.
And to all of you:
*makes Peace Lady’s two-handed “peace” gesture*
-- Raj ____________________________________________________________________________
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