Just in conversation.
Just behind their backs.
To be funny, you understand.
As if that made it any better.
When my sister Nan and I were kids, we heard many a joke at the expense of others around the family table. My sense of it was we thought we were great wits.
I see now that my people felt unsure, not good enough, judged by the outside world and this wit was their armor.
But still. People not present were always getting characterized by some witty term. If an old fellow’s hair rose slanting from his head they called him “Stiff Wind” or “Mister Nor’easter.” That kind of thing. People not present were always getting ‘acted out’ based on their body language or verbal tics.
I impersonated someone at my tenth birthday party, a merry affair with all my young cousins and Franco American Spaghetti for the entree. At one point I made my face look like the face of an elderly family friend whose mouth and left eye drooped due to a birth accident, and felt an immediate shocked silence on the part of my young. The one 13 even chastised me, gently.
You’d think that would have taught me. And it did, mostly. Yet I look back at my first columns from the early 1980s and here are many references to ‘a fat lady’ , ‘old people’ and so on. I would never use such terms today and I don’t know why I used them then except that we all felt much freer to speak so. And the Fat Lady was a figure of fun, was she not? Someone you paid money to go stare at at the circus? So what made us finally feel how sad her fate was? Maybe reading tabloid stories of people so large teams of police and EMTs have to take out the windows or even the whole sides of their houses to get them to the hospital for the medical attention they need?
This past week, somebody sent me an email containing terrible allegations about our President It was a “forward,” meaning that he had not composed it. Still, he had sent it to his whole address book. I thought about it for a few hours and finally wrote him: “Dan, can you take me off this list? I find emails like this so upsetting.” And he wrote back. “I’m sorry Terry. It won’t happen again.”
It was that easy.
So yes I’m going to keep on hoping for civility ‘out’ there” BUT! I am also going to start policing my own self too and rooting out all signs of unkindness. I think of Michael Jackson and the powerful message he sent out in this song. Ah Michael, with your demons. How we all still miss you!