As a child, I was quite tempestuous, and I had the habit of making wildly rash statements in moments of extreme emotion. My mother would always respond, “Marieke, do not make blanket statements.”
It took me a couple of decades to figure out what she meant. When I was little, I would just imagine a blanket being part of the message, but the rest was kind of lost to me. Her tone and body language let me know that I should perhaps rethink my choice of words in the future.
Language has become a focus of my life and practice. the more I study language in from different angles, the more I realize how very much power lies in the words we use and in our method of delivery.
Take this afternoon, for example. I was running a couple of quick errands in Nashua, not far from my home in Lowell. I spent a few minutes in an establishment called Guitar Center, vowing on my way out never to return to such a musical, man-cave version of a Starbucks’. Then on to Trader Joe’s. Both errands without incident. I held the door for people. They held the door for me.
Life could be a dream, right?
Then, I followed multiple cars into the parking lot for the United States Post Office. I had one envelope to mail, and I saw that there was a mailbox right outside. So, I pulled out people’s way and without blocking anyone who was parked, put my car in park, turned on my blinker, hopped out of the car, dropped my letter in the box, and returned to my vehicle. Less than ten seconds had passed.
As I was opening the door to the driver’s side, a tall, thin, balding man wearing a black, North Face fleece coat made a comment under his breath that was loud enough and clearly intended for others to hear.
“No one else in the WHOLE world would do that. UnbeLEIVable!”
It took me a minute, but I realized that he was talking about me. And that he had made the most ridiculous blanket statement I had heard in a long time.
I turned to look over at him, nonplussed.
“Huh?” was all that I could muster.
He did not return eye contact and instead opened the door to the post office and walked in.
I got in my car and drove off, still perplexed.
For one, I could not figure out what I had done wrong. It had occurred to me that it would likely be safer to not pull directly into a space because backing up in New England parking lots is a leap of faith for one’s life.
Also, I was fairly certain that I was not the only person in the entire world to have made this choice and would likely not be last, certainly not in this region of the country.
I mean, maybe he leads a solitary life and avoids modern media as a means of finding balance with his propensity for aggressive, curmudgeonly behavior, so he is wholly unaware that there is unrest in Venezuela and Ukraine, among many other countries, including our own, in the world. Perhaps, he is under the impression that racism, bigotry, bullying, vengeance, and slander have been cast aside in order to promote peace, love, and understanding.
Has he heard of a state called Arizona, where a wall has been built to avoid taking responsibility for our past and present mistakes and refuse entry to people looking for a better life in this so-called “land of opportunity?”
These were the thoughts that swirled through my heads as I formed sentences and witty (at least, they sounded witty in my head) retorts to send to him through the ethos.
In the end, I was thankful that I had not engaged with him and had simply gotten into my car and drove away.
The part of me who grew up in Massachusetts and has been living in Lowell for the past two years wanted to walk up to him and shake my fist in his face.
The part of me who has been studying sustainability and cultivating practices to help me process negativity and ill-will rather than return it to its source or perpetuate the cycle of energy to the world around me felt some remorse and sadness for his clearly unhappy and cowardly state of being in this world.
I would far prefer to try to make sense of his blanket statement through writing and reflection than to engage with him in any way in proximity to such irritable energy. It feels unproductive.
That being said, should you find yourself in Nashua this afternoon and in proximity to a tall, balding man wearing a black North Face jacket, please be kind and wish him a happy day. Who knows? It might make a difference.