In the sixth grade, I was nominated for a humanitarian award. I was twelve at the time, so I could not have told you why, let alone what the dictionary’s definition of humanitarian was. I was nominated for something. Why did I need to know more?
They called up the nominees. They lined us up by grade. And between the two sixth graders, it was announced that I… was the runner up. My classmate had won, and she smiled nice and pretty, as she was congratulated and thanked. My feelings towards her at that moment would not have classified me as a humanitarian. Perhaps they chose wisely.
Funny how you think your life is perfectly fine, right up until someone tells you that you cannot have something that you had not known existed up until that precise moment.
Thirty years later, I have greatly matured as an adult. I met with my landlord yesterday. I take time out to do crunches. My taxes were paid before January was even over. I am excelling at this whole adult-thing.
How have I progressed as a humanitarian? Er. Ahem. I suppose we could look back to last Saturday.
Saturday afternoon is the time when I am most likely to strangle someone. (My humanitarian prospects are already looking grim. Relax. It gets worse.) I work six days a week. I have coworkers that can make interesting choices. I commute with buses and trains and streets full of people. When 5:45 rolls around on Saturday evenings, I am just about done. Get me home. Let me tune out the world.
I left work on time. I walked at my standard pace. I caught the train. At my stop, I was first off the train, first to the escalator, and took the stairs two at a time.
Across the street from the station is my bus stop. There is a crosswalk light. I refuse to jaywalk. I figure, if I am supposed to make the bus, then the light will let me go. If the world can wait, then I will stand and watch as “my” bus leaves without me.
The crosswalk light was red. The bus was about to leave. Then the crosswalk changed in my favor. I scurried across, waving my book at the bus driver’s window. The bus drove up five feet, then stopped as it waited for the light to change. I knocked on the glass door. The bus driver did not acknowledge me. I knocked again.
The driver looked at me with disdain. He did not open the door for me. He lifted his right arm ever so slightly off of the steering wheel. With his left arm, he pointed to his fancy watch. His message was conveyed. He was not letting me on the bus.
I felt my dander rise. In no way was his letting me on the bus going to harm or inconvenience another. The bus had advanced, but it was still at the bus stop. The light was still red. My getting on the bus would have been a victory for me, and a loss for absolutely no one. It was Saturday. I wanted to be home.
I began to judge him. To glare at his over-priced watch. To form opinions about his physical appearance. To critique him as a person based on his masked status. Beating on the door felt like a reasonable response to his uncaring demeanor.
The socially adjusted part of me started to kick in. I knew that he was in control of the situation. That no matter what I did, I was reliant upon him to open the doors. I could cuss, I could threaten, I could rage against him. But even if I begged, he was in control. Even if I broke in, he was the one that knew had to drive the bus. Even if I wanted to fully Hulk-out, there were cameras on board. If I let my temper take over, I would not succeed in any way.
Also, I remembered that I also have those moments of power. Opportunities where I can abuse my position. I work in a movie theater. If you ask me, by the time the feature hits the screen, everyone should have had their ticket taken. (Or scanned; you trendy kids, you.) I feel that allowing folks in five minutes after a movie starts is a courtesy. I believe that ten minutes after is being kind. I think that fifteen minutes after is too much.
There are other people in the theater. They would like their movie to start on time. They would like to not have their feet stepped on as late-comers trod on their feet and stumble in the dark. The punctual patrons prefer to not have masses of people blocking their view as they fumble in twenty minutes late. For the good of the presentation, I prefer to keep latecomers to a minimum. I have turned away people that have had tickets. I have made people get refunds and come back another time, even when they have made the effort to leave their homes, meet their date, and pay for parking. Because I want those that are there to be able to enjoy their movie. (If you really want me to be a snob, use a cellular in the theater. Just try it…)
From the outside, I would imagine that those I have turned away have thought me too harsh. Just as I judged the driver as being too harsh. I would offer that my reasons for being strict are noble and good and virtuous. Whereas the bus driver’s reasons were stubborn, obnoxious, and pointless. Funny how that works.
I tried to calm down. I reminded myself that many, many people with darker skin than mine had had to struggle to get a taxi or bus to stop for them. I thought of times when it snowed; when I refused to drive, and the bus drivers took me to work. I thought of the numerous times when bus drivers had pulled up next to me, waited for me, or had otherwise gone out of their way to help me. The number of courteous bus drivers I have encountered vastly outnumbers the number of frustrating ones.
One of my favorite people is a bus driver. The next bus was due in ten minutes. It was not Mongolia-cold outside. I was not due for any appointments. I had my book. Mine was a “First-World Problem.” I could rage and fume and threaten. Or I could let it go, sit down, and read for ten minutes.
I am no saint. A saint would not have thought ill-will of the guy in the first place. I have a friend who, after being mugged in the street, called out to his attacker, “Come back! I want to bless you!” That is not me. However, I like to think that I function in polite society. I can step back and try to assess things from another’s point of view. I may still want to smack their head against their over-sized steering wheel, but I can walk away from strife. I can be humane.
That humanitarian title though; that is still a way’s off.
Reading these brings a little bit of Philip back in my life. For that I am thankful!!