Yesterday on the brilliant green grass at a local soccer field, against an azure blue sky, we sent rockets into the air. One, two, three - and then again - and then again. I've never set off a rocket before. I can't wait to do it some more.
What kind of man buys rockets and motors and fuses and everything for his girlfriend's kids? What kind of guy spends time thinking about activities that will enrich his girlfriend's children and get them off the computer and into the outside? (Its not that I don't think about how to get them outside, but I'm somewhat less...um...creative. Go outside and playis about as much as I seem to be able to manage.) What kind of man patiently shows two very sensitive, obstreperous and distractible children how to put the wadding and the parachute and the nose and the motor and the fuse and the plug into their rockets? MINE does.
The other best part about setting off rockets is having two hyperactive and overstimulated children around to run around and pick up all the parts from where they landed and bring them back to you. It tires them out.
I was thinking a bit about the post I wrote earlier this week about the snobby people at the party who didn't think I was good enough to talk to. Then I thought about other people at the party who I might not have tried to talk to either, and wondered if that made me just like the people I was sort of lambasting for being rude, self-entitled bastards. Naturally no one wants to be thought of negatively, part of becoming a mature and self-actualized person is accepting that not everyone you meet is going to like you and you do not have to wrap yourself up in a pretzel trying to make them see just how wonderful you are. But another part of becoming a mature, self-actualized individual is reviewing how you treat others and determining whether your actions are in line with your core values. And since I value being treated kindly, is this something I give to others?
I was at ComiCon'11 in San Diego a couple of weeks ago. "Crowded" falls woefully short of even beginning to describe the mob scene I encountered there. The entryways, the escalators, the stairs, the eating lounges, the convention hall floors, the hallways between the session rooms - all were most of the time so shoulder-to-shoulder with people that if a fire had broken out the death toll would have been horrific. And I like people but I hate crowds. I hate being jostled and pushed and shoved and unable to easily navigate the fifteen feet between me and the booth I want to visit. I hate not being able to take a clear picture of anythingbecause there's no way on earth you can make that many people stop walking between your camera lens and the giant Perry the Platypus bus they set up in the pavilion hall. So when its me and that many people, I'm not bloody likely to be smiling and friendly. Much, anyway. But every time I was in line for something or stopped and sitting somewhere, I managed to find someone to talk to.
I like to have someone to talk to. I don't necessarily want it to be the homeless guy who smells like old booze and possibly urine, but if he's my only choice? I'll probably talk to him. If its the girl who got on the plane and sat down next to me looking like Barbie but who is a real-life full-ride-scholarship law student who spent the summer in Croatia, I'll talk to her, even before I figured out that her cover didn't even begin to describe the book inside. Pretty much if you make eye contact with me and don't throw something at me or rush away with a frown on your face (why do people do that? Do I look like Quasimodo?), I'll probably at the very least smile at you or say "hi."
Sometimes at parties I have to breathe a little bit and I'll pull back to the outskirts and observe people. I like to watch what people do in a group, watch the hierarchies develop and figure out what people are like. Sometimes I'll seek out the person who looks like they're feeling left out or afraid of the crowd and I'll try to engage them. And other times I'll want to be on the middle of the dance floor or in the center of the conversation with a big group of people. And when I say "sometimes" I mean in the course of just the one party. On a day when I'm feeling normal, I'm all over the map.
But there are times and for certain reasons (I'm stressed out, I'm uncomfortable, I'm not on my game, I don't feel well) when I don't talk to people. When I feel singled out. When I'm new and don't know anyone yet. When I first started working at my current job, I hated walking into the lunchroom when everyone was on break. I didn't know people's names yet and I'm not good at remembering the ones I've already been told, and I don't like feeling like everyone's trying to figure out who I am without actually talking to me first. And so I would kind of sneak in, get my water or my hot cocoa or wash my dishes, then leave again without making eye contact with anyone. And so I imagine that the guys sitting around the table might, without being able to read my mind, get the impression that I was standoffish and cold. (Four years and four Christmas parties later, they know better. They've seen me play beer pong and make a fool of myself on the dance floor.)
And I think of the times I've been somewhere and avoided meeting the eyes of the homeless guy begging for change or the soccer team selling candy bars or the guy in the white suite and red hat asking for donations for his religious charity. And I know I pretended I didn't see them because I didn't want to talk to them. I don't want to buy whatever they're selling and I don't want to donate money to a group whose objectives I disagree with, and I need the $10 in my wallet because I'm a single mom who is fighting to make ends meet and I wish I could give it to the homeless guy but I can't. But is that reason enough not to at least look at them and be friendly? No. Its not.
I imagine that maybe people who have money get hit up a lot by people they don't really know but who want something from them - a job, a hand up, a loan, a ride in their fancy car. And I suppose that might make them naturally suspicious about people. They may meet more people who want something from them than people who are just being friendly. And maybe they're reacting to me the way I'm reacting to the homeless guy because they don't know me at all and they don't realize that I'm not asking them for anything, I just wanted to be friendly. But still - just as its not a sufficient excuse for me, I think its not a sufficient excuse for them. Because we all need to be better not just at being human but at being humane.
I'm not better than the homeless guy. I'm more fortunate. Maybe he's not a nice person, but I don't know that until I meet his gaze and say hello.