While holding my daughter, who is just shy of a year and a half, and directing my dripping, towel cladded toddler back to the Women’s Locker Room, I found myself catching a remarkable chill, not from the cold air that met our moisture marked skin after leaving the temperature controlled water in the pool, but from a conversation that was unfolding just a few feet ahead of mine. A fit, middle aged, smartly dressed woman was directing conversation with whom at first glance, I thought to be a young high school man. I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation, because it took place as I followed, and then the pair stopped to finish as we opened and entered the door.
This lady was irate with whatever new changes that had recently taken place in the center to let the riffraff in. She made fun of a man, who in her words, looked to be homeless, and had the audacity to be, gasp, carrying his clothes in a dollar store bag! I mean, how dare he??? Right?! If you could have only heard the disgust in her voice as she was discussing the homeless… The other member of this conversation was actually none other than an employee. Young, yes, but still, someone taking the time to agree and further engage in this wealthy woman’s fantasy that gym memberships are only for people who look like her. I was not mentally prepared to go to verbal battle, even though it would have been a wonderful lesson for my children and anyone else, so while still fuming, I made it a point to create this article tonight.
Let me tell you a few facts. I am a 31 year old, single mother of 3 children. This is the first time in my life that I’ve EVER had a gym membership. The only reason I have one is because we currently live with my children’s grandparents. They have graciously extended generosity to us in incredible ways, so that we would continue to be well cared for. I have tattoos. I have been on food assistance. I have been homeless. I have teeth decaying out of my mouth at a rapid rate. I have made decisions that would make the brand of character I overheard tonight wince in horror. I have been caught in public using a plastic bag while looking disorderly.
Dearest pretty lady with the assumed perfect 2.5 kids, well polished partner, and white picket fence,
I forgive you.
I forgive you for assuming my worth and the worth of others based on outward appearances alone. I’m saddened by your lack of compassion and empathy for other strangers. You have no idea what went through the mind of that dollar store bag carrier. Maybe that person finally fought off his phobia that kept him in the house to, get this, BETTER himself. Maybe that person was kindly bringing a bag to another wealthy, to-do individual, who looked like you, who carelessly forgot their stuff at home. MAYBE, it was my father in law who works full-time, makes a GREAT living, who was rushing in with a bag full of the things for his grandchildren to enjoy while splashing in the pool. His hair is a bit ragged right now, and he JUST trimmed what was a bit of an unkept beard. You wouldn’t know that a month ago he was in the hospital with blood clots in his lungs, so you’d judge his blemish marked face. You’d be sure to judge his attire and presence. He has a passion for thrifting, so yes, he could definitely be the man you were referring to.
Whether the changes you were gossipping about are the allowances of the family membership or the new medical insurances being accepted, I’m uncertain, but please, for the sake of humanity, take a step back and realize the homeless matter, the unkept matter, and those who don’t look like you, matter. My worth is not determined by the way you look down on me. I’ll go into my job interview tomorrow with certainty and grace. I’ll hide my chronic pain and exhaustion. I’ll smile with a closed mouth. Appearances are everything. Some diseases are silent killers… Once my children are old enough to understand, I’ll share with them a little story about how Mommy overheard a woman struggling with privilege and pride. Addiction is a very real thing. And I choose to meet that disease with compassion.