If you like comedy, go to the movie theater. If you prefer drama, visit your local DMV office.
They were both beautiful people, strangers to each other. One had long, dark wavy hair and olive skin, with her body in constant motion as if she couldn’t wait to be out of the long line and back outside. A fair-skinned blonde was already standing at the counter.
The first was clearly the senior of the two, at about five years old.
“Bee-bee,” the blonde said. Kids recognize members of their peer group whenever they see them. “BEE-BEE!”
“Yes, that’s a little girl,” her mother said before turning to the representative behind the counter. The dark-haired child stopped twirling to wave at the toddler, who stared back and began hugging her mom’s leg with both arms. The waving became stronger, then ceased as the girl dropped her hand to her side. She walked back to her own mother and reached for her. The girl’s body language had shifted from the playfulness of childhood into the self-conscious, vertical stiffness of adulthood, and I wanted to distract her with a compliment about her colorful plastic butterfly tiara.
I wanted to say, “It’s not about you; she’s just shy.”
But I wasn’t close enough. They were at the counter next, and then they were gone.
Small moments like these happen throughout our lives. As adults, sometimes we’re the ones waving or speaking kind words to a stranger, coworker or neighbor, with an unexpected response. It’s easy to cope with our discomfort by assigning some sort of explanation to the exchange, even when we don’t have the necessary details to form a solid theory.
What feels like rejection or rudeness can be a misunderstanding.
Maybe he didn’t see your wave, or the greeting you shouted was silenced by the wind. Maybe she snapped at you because she just lost someone close to her. Perhaps your coworker interrupted everyone in that meeting because he is grappling with a potential cancer diagnosis.
Some people try to gain power or other goodies by attempting to make other people uncomfortable or even unhappy, true. But often it’s impossible to know what’s behind most of the snubs and slights of everyday life.
We can release ourselves from the weight of other people’s responses to our best efforts.
The next time I’m feeling some awkwardness, shame or shyness, I want to remember everything’s okay. It’s just another day at the playground.