I really only saw the last part of the interaction, and the final gesture was enough to easily be etched into my memory.
While eating lunch with co-workers today at the dining hall on campus, my interest was piqued by an interaction unfolding near me. A young man whom I’d seen around campus, mostly in the rec center where I work, was conversing with a football player. I found it warming to see this young man interact with others because he has a physical disability that he was born with that has misshapen his head and caused a slight twist to his face. So to see him engage with others felt good to me – call it sympathy and compassion; my own acknowledgment of wanting to feel comfort for him. In watching the two interact it was hard to catch the gist of the conversation – plus or minus – until that final gesture by the football player: he made a motion, slowly raising his hand toward the young man’s face, first clenching his hand into a fist, and then unfolding into a thumb up orientation, pointer finger curling around an imaginary object – the trigger of a pistol.
The young man immediately swatted the hand holding the imaginary weapon away and turned his back to his own business at another table. Instantly after witnessing this, I was uncomfortable; I wasn’t expecting that. I was at a loss of what to say or do and turned back to my friends. Walking back across campus to the rec center after lunch, I eventually, after replaying mentally what I had witnessed, pushed it to the side, acknowledging that my chance to have done anything was past.
Arriving back to work I kept focused and in heeding the call to use the restroom at the rec center, not 10 minutes later, I saw this same young man whom had been the target of this psychological intimidation. Finishing my use of the urinal, I silently thanked the Universe for this chance opportunity and turned towards the sink where the young man was standing. Walking up to him, I looked at him and asked him how he was doing. In a quick return of back and forth conversation I admitted to him that I had seen the interaction between him and the football player at the dining hall. Shrugging the interaction off, he seemed indifferent, and perhaps this is something typical for him – people treating him differently because of his appearance, or for the way he speaks slightly out of the side of his mouth – a result of his physical body’s presence. Perhaps selfishly, in needing to feel better about the situation I witnessed, I told him to forget about that football player and we proceeded to launch into a quick get-to-know-you exchange.
I found out he was applying for a job in the fall semester to work at the rec center, and that he had spoken with one of my supervisors. Feeling marginally better about acknowledging him, treating him as if he were as important as anyone else ( basic moral principles: do unto others as you would have done unto you), I bid him a good day and told him it was nice to have met him.
So, why share this socially? I’m aware that people out there in Facebook land may have seen an interaction similar to this – where someone who deserves just as much equal treatment as anyone else is marginalized simply because of a discernable difference – call it a judgment; whether that is physically, psychologically, or socially. And that in sharing, perhaps those that have seen it, or those that will one day see it, will be inclined to acknowledge the stigmatism and marginalization and reach out through whatever means necessary to say “No, this shall not be - you are worthy of basic decency.” Equal treatment.
On my walk home, I thought of the even bigger picture than this immediate circumstance: we have a president currently, whom has publicly mocked physically handicapped people. A person who, in my opinion, values only himself and those most like him. An Ego-centric maniac. And in this, I feel I understand more why it is still a formidable challenge in our culture, our society, for us to accept others we don’t immediately identify with. So perhaps I’m sharing this truly because I was uncomfortable and angry, though ultimately, what I really felt was sadness. Sad that, for all the technological marvels and advances in society – for everything we celebrate that seems positive – we are still struggling for the basic principles of moral decency in how we treat one another in our immediate community, our country, and of course globally.
For to care about one another, as if that person was the most important person in your life at this exact moment, is to acknowledge that all life is precious, and that we all deserve equal treatment as conscious human beings – regardless of our unique differences. That is the culture and society of people I desire to be a part of. One life at a time please; we can make a difference in our world.
Thank you for the space to share.