“You don’t know shit…”
That’s what I wanted to say to the pretty woman, but I didn’t. Let me back it up and explain myself.
At 4:45 this morning I was at the platform waiting for my train. I was talking with an older gentleman as the pretty woman walked around us. I’ve talked with this guy before and we frequently have lengthy discussions during our wait. At 5:00 a.m. I walked down to the spot where I normally stand and continued to wait for the train. I found myself standing next to the pretty, well-dressed woman. It’s not what you think, I’ve also known her for a while and we have become friends as well.
I made a sorrowfull comment to the woman about the man I had been talking with, indicating that things were tough for the guy. She turned to me with a look of distaste and repulsion and said, “The Mexican?”
This was the point where I wanted to tell her that she didn’t know shit. There were a few things that bothered me. The first was the look of distaste and repulsion that was stamped across her face. It’s true that he wouldn’t have won any awards for being dressed like a Dapper Dan, plus he only had a few teeth in his upper jaw, and he looked rough and angry. But did any of that really matter? It shouldn’t have. In a minute I’ll share some things about this man that just might shed some light on his appearance. But, I want to address the second thing that really bothered me. Her assumption that he was Mexican, and the apparent stigma that she placed with this.
First of all, he is a third generation American with ancestors that came up from Mexico. He isn’t Mexican. And even if he HAD been Mexican, so fucking what?! This guy had commented to me before about judgments that are sometimes made of him because he is “brown”. What a shitty world we live in.
This brings me back to where we were originally. I wanted to tell her that she didn’t know shit. But I kept a lid on my emotions and opted to explain a few things to her.
Rudy (no, his name wasn’t Juan or Pablo) works construction. There is a very good reason for him wearing the clothes he was wearing. Were the clothes a little dirty? Yes, but there’s also a reason for that – Rudy has a small farm and wakes up every morning at 2:00 a.m. to feed and take care of the animals before he goes in to work. Then there is the issue with Rudy’s teeth. What well-mannered person would stand for that kind of oral degradation? Let me tell you. Rudy is well into his 60’s, yet is the provider and caretaker of 6 small children because he didn’t want his cousin’s grandkids to go into foster care. He spends a ton of money on the 6 children rather than on dental visits for himself.
Hold on, I’m not done. Rudy looked rough and a little angry. On top of the already full plate that he is dealing with, his son committed suicide over the weekend in New Zealand. Rudy had spent much of the weekend trying to get the body sent back home, but his son had become a citizen of New Zealand and according to his will, he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in New Zealand. He would never see his son again, and he couldn’t even have the chance to see the body, much less burry it.
At this point the woman’s face was a mask of shock, but I wasn’t done. His daughter had just recently given birth to a baby girl that was 2 1/2 months early. He showed me pictures of the baby. She was tiny, fit comfortably in the palm of his weathered hand, and was hooked up to a mountain of equipment in the NICU. He had taken one of the napkin-sized diapers out of the hospital and was going to show it to the guys at the construction site. Was he cranky, tired, looking a little beat up and angry? Yeah. But how many of us would look or feel like a million bucks if we were in his shoes?
But that’s the problem, isn’t it. We don’t bother to try and put ourselves in another person’s shoes. I’m certainly not a better person than the woman I was talking to. But there is one major difference here; I had taken the time to get to know this guy without letting any preconceived notions of who or what he was taint my view of his humanity, she had not.
I finished telling her about this guy, without having to inform her that she didn’t know shit. I got the distinct impression that she suddenly felt as guilty as hell for passing judgment like she did. I hope she felt guilty. She is still my friend, but I sure hope she felt some shame.
Where does that leave us? We are all human. Part of being human is being wired to categorize everything around us, in particular people that are around us. But we need to be careful to not confuse these automatic categorizations our brains formulate and the reality of the human being we are looking at.
Until we KNOW, we don’t know shit.