It is amazing the things that change in life. As you age, as you experience things, as you learn new perspective. I have always been sort of sarcastic and humorous. I think humor had always been my trademark. And I will be the first to admit that sometimes that is at the expense of others. That is something I never really put much thought into, until recently.
I always considered myself opened minded, democratic, totally accepting of anyone for anything, except those I don’t. I definitely had an opinion about drug addicts. I know had I seen a girl like JoDee, nodding out, looking dirty and unkempt, slumped on the sidewalk, shorts too short, shirt to tight, surrounded by other young people (and some not so young) looking as tortured as her, my first thought would be where the hell is her mother? We have all done that.
Today, I think differently. I told JoDee recently I stopped for gas on the way home from work. There was a gentleman with a coffee can pan-handling for money, trying to be incognito to the gas station attendant. I saw him loitering around, and I knew he was going to ask me for change. He had the look. Pale face, long-sleeves in 90 degree weather, and eyes at half-mast, not able to articulate words fully. I wasn’t disgusted, I was sad. I was sad for the life this poor man was missing, and that maybe he didn’t have anyone to help him. When he asked me for change, I reached in my car to grab the schedule of N/A meetings (JoDee has them everywhere) in the area. I put it in his can and told him to find a meeting. He yelled, swore at me, the usual and expected reaction. I just said, if you can’t help an addict don’t hurt one, so I’m not giving you money to help you get high. He stopped yelling. He just stared at me for minute and then mumbled something about me being crazy. Which I did find, somewhat ironic. On the way home, I really thought about how things have changed for me. That happened to me again this afternoon.
There is a cafeteria in my office building, that isn’t really great, but if you got a prime parking spot, it’s better than having to move your car. The same guy makes the sandwiches or gets soup if you order it, and the same woman rings up your order. Every day. The woman must have called out sick or taken the day off because the normal Sandwich-Making Guy was ringing and there was a new guy taking the orders. And he was floundering. As I stood in line, at least 15 minutes longer than usual, I noticed he was screwing up almost every order. He would make people repeat the order numerous times, and still forget something, make it incorrectly, or get distracted. He was clearly over his head. And I was getting annoyed- I’m an Account Manager and it’s month end, I could feel the day wasting just standing in line.
When it was my turn, I ordered a grilled cheese. Nothing difficult, a grilled cheese with cheddar. Easy. He asked me twice. Then asked me what kind of cheese (third time I would say cheddar) and as I watched him put Swiss cheese on the bread, I took a deep breath to let those my barrage of comments that were bottle necking in my head in an effort rush out, when I saw it. The N/A symbol tattooed on the inside of his arm. He was wearing a chef’s jacket with quarter length sleeves. It only showed for a second or two but that was long enough. Maybe he was distracted because he was high. Maybe he was struggling because this was his first day back to work after detox/rehab/jail/who-the-hell-knows-what. All I know, in that moment, I was humbled. I was about to lose my patience for a few extra minutes and wrong cheese on someone who was doing the best he can. I said nothing. Instead I watched him while my grilled cheese toasted, as he took others orders. He was flustered, he was moving as fast as he could, and he was very aware that he was not doing a great job.
It’s a lesson for all of us. We don’t know the struggle someone has. Maybe this man isn’t struggling at all and has been clean for 15 years, there is no telling. And truth be told, the N/A symbol gave me pause, but we should find some room for error/patience/acceptance for everyone regardless of their situation. Life is way too short, and suddenly I have noticed, it has gotten way too hard, to waste negative energy on menial things. I felt guilty (though, if I’m being totally honest, I believe Guilt lurks around the corner with Despair) that I was being so harsh. I believe the lesson here is, it’s not life or death, and it was a freaking sandwich.
I thought of all the things it probably took for him to get to this point; recovery time, getting to the interview, desperate of a job to be an active member of society, helping him find some self-worth, to feel like a contributor and not a taker, all things I strive for JoDee to do. It wasn’t because he is an addict that I cut him some slack, and it really wasn’t because JoDee is. And the truth may be he isn’t an addict, maybe his child is and the tattoo is a symbol of support, but it was about humanity. My experience as the mother of a drug addict has shown me that things are not what they seem. I brought JoDee to the hospital, strung out, un-showered, looking like a sewer rat, and have seen the look she gets. In the waiting room parents hold their kids and their wallets closer to them. Older people stare and shake their head, and not just at JoDee, at me too. They are judging us. They don’t know us. They don’t know that JoDee volunteered many times at the Assisted Living or Nursing Homes I have worked at and was loved by the residents. They don’t know that JoDee has a huge heart and strong ties to her family, that love her. They don’t know that even though I look young, I work, I pay a mortgage, I pay taxes, and I am not sponging off anyone or anything. I am not what they think, and JoDee is not what they think. Typically, in the moment, I don’t pay attention to those things-occasionally someone gets a “Something interesting over here or do you want my autograph?” but that is pretty rare. Usually, I’m too concerned about JoDee to realize the look of contempt on the faces of the Oh-So-Perfect other waiting room mates we are sitting with. But I know what I have thought, in those exact shoes, and it’s a terrible feeling to be on the other side.
I really don’t care what the public at large thinks of me, and I basically never have. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t care what the public at large thinks of my child. On many occasions I have said I must have been an awful person in a past life to have JoDee suffer like this. And the response is always the same, this is JoDee’s deal, not yours and you aren’t responsible but I believe any mother worth her salt would agree when I say cut off my arm and I will feel pain. I will cry and mourn and then I will begin to heal and I will survive. Cut off my child’s arm and I will die from the pain. So, excuse me if I can’t believe whole heartedly that this doesn’t reflect on me and my past lives, somehow.
At any rate, all of that in mind, I couldn’t help but reflect on the poor guy, having a crappy day, in a new place, with corporate America barking orders and being nasty that they aren’t right. I simply took my not-at-all-grilled cheese with Swiss not cheddar back to my desk, and ate it with gratitude.