Category Archives: Prejudice

Vibrant Red

It all started with a very simple comment.  A co-work looked at me the other day and asked, “When are you going to dye your hair again?”

I was a little surprised by her question.  It was true that I hadn’t paid a lot of attention to my hair lately.  Life has been so busy that I really hadn’t given a lot of thought to my style or color.  Over the last several weeks, I have just been washing my hair in the evenings and then giving it a few quick strokes with a brush before rushing off to work in the morning.  I don’t fuss with my hair for the rest of the day.  This is fine for me.  I have never been an “every hair in place” kind of girl.  I like my hair wild.  I admit though that sometimes it looks a little too wild, a little too untamed.  I don’t think I’m lazy.  I just have more important concerns than the color or cut of my hair.

Yet, I felt myself cringe a little as I looked at my coworker.  Her hair is always creatively styled and her makeup always looks professionally applied.

I hesitated for just a moment before answering her question.  Unfortunately, my reply wasn’t very motivating.  “I don’t know,” I answered.  “I’ll take care of it when I have more time.”

“Well, it doesn’t look bad right now,” she assured me, “but your color is kind of faded.  Your hair is the color of a peach.  I always picture you as a vibrant redhead.”

Her words made me smile. A vibrant redhead.  I had experimented with that color in the past.  I loved it, even though, I reluctantly admit, that years ago, it also made me very uncomfortable.

When I was born, I was completely bald; there was not a single strand of hair on my smooth, tiny head.  As I grew into a toddler, I had just a few wisps of pale blond hair.  My mother always loved to tell the story that when I was three years old, she had pulled the few strands of my hair up to the top of my head and secured them there with a small plastic barrette.  While we were at the grocery store, a man kept staring at me before walking over to the basket I was sitting in and looking down at the top of my head.  “Oh, she does have hair,” the man said to my mother then.  “I thought you had just stuck that clip straight down into the top of that poor baby’s head.”  Mom always thought that was adorable.  The story though haunted and embarrassed me for most of my life until I finally learned to laugh at myself.

But awkward comments were to be expected.  My childhood hair was always very fine and pure platinum blond.  I was very different from my both sisters who had thick hair.  My oldest sister was a dark brunette, while my other sister was a redhead.  We looked like a rainbow when we stood side by side.  The full light spectrum was always reflected off our hair whenever we were together.  I was the lightest, the palest everywhere we went; I was the one who always seemed to fade into the background.  Being a very shy child, I didn’t mind.  I rather liked it that way.

As I grew older, my hair darkened, until one day, when I was about 15, a neighborhood fried commented to me, “You’re going red!  Oh my gosh, you have red hair now!”

I was horrified!  I didn’t want to have red hair!  Red hair was so rare where I was growing up that my sister was continually teased about her coloring.  She was always noticed and the center of attention at any gathering.  I didn’t want that.  I wanted to stay pale and blonde and wallflower-y alone.  But I couldn’t fight it at the time.  Against my will, my platinum blond coloring continued to darken to auburn.

After a few years, as I slowly gained more confidence, I grew into my hair and I was proud of the color.  I wasn’t vain about my appearance.  There was still too much about my body that I hated.  I wasn’t thin; my long feet turned out awkwardly.  But I started to appreciate my red hair color which made me look much different from other people….in a good way.  I liked the idea that my hair was uniquely my own.

My hair wouldn’t stop changing color, though.  It went from a pale blond to a light red to a dark red until gentle gray strands began to shoot out all over my head.  I started to get gray hair at an early age.  I was only 26 when the first few gray strands appeared.  I must have inherited this trait from my maternal grandmother.  Grandma Edie was completely gray by the time she was 27.

Okay, I may have slowly learned to enjoy my red hair but I wasn’t so appreciative of the gray, even if it was premature.  It just made me feel old and I cried every time I was asked at a fast food restaurant if I wanted the senior discount.

It was time to dye my hair.

At first, I decided to relive my childhood and dyed my hair platinum blond like Marilyn Monroe.  But I’m not Marilyn and the color just once more made me look pale and washed out.  My life had changed; I had changed, and I was no longer accepting the wallflower position.  Red is the color of my soul.  But just like figuring out the dosage of prescription drugs, it took several experiments with different products, mixtures, and timing to get the right tint of red that made me feel the most comfortable.  Some reds were just too brassy for me; others made me look like a large carrot; a few dyes turned me into a pumpkin head.  I even tried burgundy once and really liked it until I realized it had faded to pink.  Yes, that’s right, I walked around with pink hair for several weeks before I finally took the time to dye it again.

Several shades later, I finally found the hue I liked the best and thought was the most flattering for my features.  I loved being strawberry blond.  It wasn’t too dark for me and the red shined brightly out in the sun.

This was the shade I had been using when my coworker made her comment to me.  The problem wasn’t with the dye but with the fact that I just hadn’t taken the time to touch it up again.  My gray roots were beginning to show, but I still didn’t really care.  It was true, though.  I was a peach with rotting, gray areas.  I decided to freshen myself up and started shopping through hair dyes that afternoon.  I reached for the box containing my usual strawberry blond formula but then stopped.  A vibrant red?  I had tried that before and many people made comments that my hair was a spark, a fire, a beacon, a siren.  But…vibrant red…Yeah!  That’s me!  Feeling adventurous and frivolous, I bought the red dye and hurried home before I could change my mind.

That afternoon, I mixed up the color and quickly applied it to my hair.  I wasn’t very careful with it.  I wanted to hurry up with the processes.  I’m not girly-girl enough to spend a lot of time on my hair.  I really didn’t want to mess with it.  I put the dye on and waited half an hour before rinsing it off.  I wrapped a towel around my head and squeezed out any additional water.  I took off the towel and didn’t really pay much attention to the color.  My hair is usually dark when it’s wet…no big deal.  I was sure it would be much lighter once it was dry.

Um…wrong!

About an hour later, I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror.  “Oh, my God, what have I done!?”  My hair was certainly vibrant red, the color of blood, Midwest harvest summer sunsets, cherries, Mars, and measles.  I was horrified…it was horrible.

Too make the situation worse, my sister-in-law, Mary, was very nice as she complimented me on the new hair color…but then kindly pointed out there was a big problem.  Because I had been in such a hurry to complete the process, I hadn’t realized that I had missed applying the mixture to a large chunk of hair in the back of my head.  Peachy strands stuck noticeable out through the red.  I was shocked as I stood with my back to the bathroom mirror holding up a hand mirror in order to stare at the back of my head.  But there was nothing I could do about it now.  I didn’t have any of dye left.  And besides, it was late.  I needed to get some sleep for work the next day.  I went to bed knowing I had no way to fix the situation.  I spent most of the night telling myself all kinds of things: My color doesn’t matter.  I am not my hair.  I cannot be defined by the way I look.  Who cares what other people think or say?  Other peoples’ opinions shouldn’t matter to me.  It’s only hair, just dead protein.  I can change it again.  I could cut it all off and it would grow back again.  No big deal.

But it was no use.  I have to admit that I, who never really fussed over my hair, felt stupid and ugly.  Maybe I was upset because this was absolute proof to me that I am completely klutzy with hair and make-up.  I would never be beautiful.  I can handle that actually.  I know I am a good person.  But I didn’t know if I was ready to face the awkward comments from people concerning the way I looked.  I didn’t know how to respond.  I didn’t know what excuse I could give.  What was I going to do?

The next morning, I walked into work with the collar of my coat pulled up over the back of my head.  I ran down the back hallway to my locker and yanked it open.  I suddenly sighed with relief as I discovered the answer to my dilemma.  I had forgotten that yesterday my supervisor had handed out Santa hats to everyone.  I never liked wearing the hats which usually were too big for me and put a lot of static into my fine hair.  But now, I grabbed the hat and plucked it down onto my head.  The peachy patch in the back of my head was now covered.  I couldn’t tuck all of my hair underneath the hat so I allowed bright red strands to hang around my face and shoulders.

But then, something really unusual happened.  It was so strange, I still don’t quite understand it.  Almost everyone who saw me that day complimented me on the way I look.  I heard endless comments of “Wow!  Love the hair!”  “  That’s a great red!”  “  What a beautiful shade!”

Now, of course, I didn’t let anyone see the peach patch in the back of my head, which could have easily changed everyone’s opinion.  I also admit that I wasn’t very gracious about the compliments.  I was so taken by surprise by everyone’s comments that I responded by saying, “Th…Thank you…?  I really don’t like it myself.”  Or I said, “Thanks…I’m trying to get used to it myself.” Why did I respond that way?  Why couldn’t I have just said “Thank you” and walked away?  But never feeling very secure with my looks, I felt so ugly and unsure of myself that compliments were hard to accept. I felt the need to apologize for who I was and what I had done.  I had to keep insisting to everyone that I was unattractive.

That evening I bought more hair dye and corrected the error I had made the day before when I colored all but the back of my head.

Now, my hair was completely vibrantly red…and I smiled as I looked at it.  It suddenly felt so right!  Yeah, maybe it was attractive.  Yeah, maybe I did look good.  As I brushed out my hair, I had thought about the compliments I had received that day.  I realized then that opinions didn’t matter.  No one’s thoughts about another person were important.  And hair is such a trivial matter.  But what I responded to now was everyone’s kindness when I was feeling so low and unsure of myself.  I smiled as I thought of everyone’s loving, positive reactions when I was feeling so ugly.  That’s all that really seemed to matter.

So now my hair remains a bright red.  I always loved red but was always worried about people laughing at me or teasing me.  I realized now that the reason I wasn’t comfortable with Mars red was because I was afraid of other people’s opinions.  Even now, there are strangers who walk by me and groan, “God, that’s BRIGHT red!”  Or they call me “beacon.”  But it doesn’t matter now, because I feel good.  It’s funny how I love bright red hair when I love myself.  I need to trust myself and know what I like and not worry about other people’s thoughts.  Hair doesn’t define the person I am inside.  I know who I am so what matters what happens to my body?  I know what my flaws are…I know where my scars are…but it’s strange how they don’t matter if I don’t focus on them.  I am very happy with my hair if I don’t give it too much attention.

I’ll keep my hair red for now.  It is uniquely and personally me.  It defines who I am and is part of my journey.  Maybe someday, I’ll change it again but right now I feel happy.  Besides, I am not my hair…I could dye it purple if that’s the way I feel.

Um….someday…

I smile as I think now of my coworker.  She was right…

I am a vibrant red!

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Surprise Attack

Several years ago, I decided to take a long weekend trip to San Diego.  I really wanted to go to SeaWorld and the zoo.  I love animals and thought that this would be a fun getaway.  My mini-vacation was joyful and going really well until an odd occurrence happened at SeaWorld.  After walking around the park for a while and playing with the penguins and sea creatures, I decided to go to the arena and see the dog show.  The bleachers were packed with people cheering, clapping, and laughing as intelligent, beautiful dogs jumped through hoops and raced around the colorful stage.

When the show ended, I stood up and joined the crowd of people moving towards the exit of the arena.  Because there were so many people and only one narrow exit, the audience became somewhat bottlenecked as we tried to leave.  I just kept staring straight ahead as I shuffled along in small steps with the rest of the crowd.  When I was about four feet away from the exit, the throng came to a sudden stop.  I stood in the middle of the crowd, staring straight ahead and keeping surprisingly patient.  I guess I was just in a great mood after seeing the amazing dogs.  I just love dogs.  I think they are so…

HEY, WHAT WAS THAT?

To my surprise, I suddenly felt something smack against the back of my head.  Though I was shocked, I choose to ignore the situation.  The hit didn’t hurt me.  Besides, I just figured that since I was in such a large crowd of people accidents were bound to happen.  People were going to stumble over each other.  Bodies were going to collide together.  People were going to get hit on the back of the head.  These were just accidents; nothing was intended.  Just let it go.  I didn’t show any reaction at all.  I was sure the smack was just an awkward mishap.  I just took a deep breath and continued scuffling forward with the rest of the crowd.

BUT THEN SOMEONE HIT ME AGAIN!

This time the smack was a little harder but otherwise it was the same as before.  A quick sharp whack swooped across the top of my head.  Accident, just an accident, I told myself again, though I could feel my face beginning to beat red and my hands curl into fists.  Except for sweeping my hand over the top of my head to make sure there were no foreign articles tangled in my hair, I choose to ignore the sudden, surprising contact.  I kept my eyes focused on the exit and sighed deeply as the crowd surged forward once more.

BUT THEN I WAS HIT A THIRD TIME!  A THIRD TIME!  I couldn’t believe it!

For the third time, something or someone smacked me directly on top of the head.  Now, I was MAD!  This was no accident.  Someone was hitting me purposely.  This was intentional!  Why?  Situations teased through my mind.  Maybe I had a bug in my hair someone was trying to remove for me.  Maybe there were bees around and someone was trying to swat them away.  What if someone behind me thought I wasn’t moving quickly enough and was trying to force me to walk faster?  This was mean!  This was cruel!  Why would anyone think he or she had the right to put his or her hands on me for any reason, especially to hit me?  I just wanted to have a good time, and I didn’t want to argue with anyone.  I had been trying to avoid a confrontation, but now I felt like I had no choice.  I would have to deal with the situation or be beaten absolutely senseless before I made it to the exit.

A quick small slap suddenly landed on the side of my head as I spun around to face my assailant.  I turned and came face to face with…a baby!  A BABY!?  Oh, my goodness, the child couldn’t have been more than a year old.  She had bright, sparkly, clear, brown eyes, beautiful pure skin, and dark hair that was hanging down in chunky spikes all over her head.  Some of her thick hair was  tied with a red ribbon into a poofy little sprout that shot straight up and then over on all sides as if the baby had a miniature little chocolate fountain on the top of her head.  She was dressed in a ruffly, little, pink sunsuit.  I have never been assaulted by anyone wearing a cute sunsuit and red ribbons before.

I was shocked to see that my abuser, my tormentor, my adversary was about twenty inches tall and weighed approximately nineteen pounds.  This was not at all what I had expected, especially when the child smiled a big, three-toothed, gummy grin as I stared into her tiny adorable face.  Now, the baby was all excited.  “Hi, Hi, Hi!” she started shouting to me as she waved her little hands frantically.  I stared at the child and watched as her tall, attractive, sun-glassed father tried to hang on to her with his right arm and hold the child’s hands down with his left.  “I’m so sorry,” he whispered to me as the baby continued her chatter of “HiHiHiHiHi!”  “I really tried to make her stop hitting you,” the father was saying.  “She just really wanted to meet you.  I think she just likes your red hair.”

I told the baby hello and reached out for one of her little hands.  I shook the baby’s hand and said Hello back to her and then introduced myself.  I couldn’t stop laughing.  I had been getting angry over what I had assumed was an assault, an insult, rude behavior, hatefulness…and my hater was  actually a baby who just  wanted to say hello.  I walked with the baby and her father until we finally reached the exit and then went our separate ways.

I thought about the situation as I continued walking through the park and watching all of the animals.  I couldn’t stop smiling.  It’s funny how we judge situations before realizing what’s really happening.  How many times in my life have I been angry?  How many times have I gone off on tangents and raged over situations that turned out to be completely different from what I had imagined?  My reality is usually so different from any of my pre-conceived or conditioned viewpoints?  So funny that the times I have been so upset have usually proven to be nothing at all.  How many times have I worried, stressed, and been angry over situations that turned out to be to my advantage?  Lessons to be learned or good things coming my way.  Because sometimes what we fear or what we believe to be a threat is really nothing more than a blessing, a message, or a baby who just wants to say Hi!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions

I almost didn’t go to the gym on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2015.  I expected it to be uncomfortably crowded.  I don’t worry about exercising in front of other people.  I don’t care if people are watching me even when I’ve done some really stupid things.  For instance, one day, I accidentally hit the emergency stop instead of the pause button on the treadmill and went flying off of the belt and landed on my bottom on the hard concrete floor.  Another time, I walked right into a large, white rack and cracked my head on a forty-pound weight.  I’ve fallen over while doing squats and dropped barbells on my feet.  Whenever I fall over, run into walls, and drop things, I always try to pretend that it was something I had meant to do and it didn’t hurt a bit.  I don’t think anyone believes me and I seriously doubt anyone has gained work out tips from watching me.  I have been laughed at, mocked, ridiculed, and teased all in an effort to keep myself in shape.

…And it is this effort, this drive, to stay in shape that got me up off my hopefully toned bottom and into the 24-Hour Fitness gym in Shawnee, Kansas, last Thursday.  I had been right; the gym was packed with people.  A crowd at the gym usually makes it difficult to exercise because I can’t always get the machines I need for my workout.  Thursday was “back day” and so I would need all of the machines that would exercise my trapezius, latissimus dorsi, and spinalis muscles.  Unfortunately, all of those machines were already in use.  The machines were occupied by very large men who didn’t look like they were into sharing, especially with a small, older woman dressed in trashy, loose, blue sweatpants and a gray, ragged hoodie sweatshirt.  I always wear my oldest, sloppiest clothes when I go to the gym.  I intend to work out really hard and build up a sweat.  Why would I want to dress up for that?  I am always amazed to see young women in full make-up with their hair and nails done out on the gym floor.  That’s way too much effort.  I’m proud of myself that I am at the gym at least five times a week.  To exercise in full make up seems a little desperate to me.

But who am I to judge as I looked at the people around me.  It takes all kinds of kinds, I thought as I started to make my way over to the one lone exercise bike not in use.  I pushed my steps a little bit faster hoping I could reach the bike before anyone else grabbed it.  I guess all my runs on the treadmill were paying off!  I did it!  I reached the bike first! It was all mine.  I quickly sat down on the seat, placed my diet coke in the water bottle rack (okay, okay, I know), and draped my towel over the handlebars.  I programmed the bike on a manual, medium speed and opened up my book.  I am one of those rare people who read while I exercise.  This practice works great for me.  As long as my mind is active, I can exercise for hours.

I had just started pedaling and focused on my book, when an elderly woman suddenly got my attention.  The woman had to be in her late 60s or early 70s.  She had short, pure white hair and thick, black glasses.  She was dressed in a yellow, long-sleeved t-shirt and Capri-length, black sweatpants.  I watched in amazement as the woman pushed her walker across the gym.  I have seen this woman many times before.  Using a walker doesn’t seem to slow her down.  She very carefully moves over to one of the machines and then grips the side handles of her walker as she carefully lowers herself onto the seat.  Once she is securely seated, she lets go of her walker, and then painstakingly, manually maneuvers her legs into place.  She leans forward and wraps her hands around her right leg and places it into position before she does the same thing to her left.  After she has finished her sets, the woman reverses the procedure with her legs, grabs a hold of her walker, and pulls herself up from the machine.  She stretches for a moment before moving to the next machine.  I always smile when I see her.  I hope I am just like this woman in the years to come.  Though I may have disabilities, I don’t want to be idle.  I don’t want to be sitting on the sidelines watching everyone else.  I want to be exercising; I want to be moving, even if I, too, have to adjust my legs and get around with a square, steel walker.

I watched as the woman walked over to the hamstring stretch machine.  I watched as she preformed her usual ritual.   She held onto the walker while she moved her body into place; she sat down slowly on the seat and let go of the walker; she manually moved her legs into place, first the right leg and then the left.  The woman had just gotten herself into position when a large, young man walked up to her.  The man smiled but still informed the woman, “I was using that machine.  I haven’t finished yet.”  I stared in absolute horrified shock as the woman smiled back at the man and then began her slow routine of getting off of the machine without having performed one single movement to stretch her hamstrings.  The young man just stood by as the elderly woman now maneuvered one leg and then the other off of the machine.  She grabbed hold of her walker and pulled herself up out of the seat.  She nodded her head at the man as she slowly began to shuffle away.  The young man did not say another word as he sat down on the machine, shifted his legs into place (without using any manipulation), and began to exercise.

I watched in surprise as the woman shuffled around the gym trying to find a machine that was not in use.  The gym was just too crowded that day for anyone to immediately do their workout unless they were rude enough to chase elderly woman and others off of the machines.  The woman tried to make her way to several exercise machines that suddenly became free only to have younger, more mobile people race ahead of her.  The woman just stood on the side of the room and waited for a moment before finally giving up and walking back to the locker rooms.

I wanted to chase after her and apologize for the rudeness that she had encountered.  I wanted to tell her, “Hey, you know, it’s New Year’s Eve.  Everybody has a resolution to lose 10 to 50 pounds.  I’ve been going to gyms long enough to know…just give it a month or two.  Most people will give up and then the gym will be ours again.”  But I didn’t do anything.  I just watched as the woman shuffled by and I was ashamed that I had said and did nothing.

I usually don’t make New Year’s resolutions because, like many people who promise to exercise, I don’t always follow through on them.  But maybe this year I should make a resolution to reach out to people who feel like they don’t belong.  Maybe the world would be better off if instead of making useless resolutions we never keep, this year, 2016, we just try to be a little kinder to each other.

Differences

I had been sitting at a small table in the back of McDonald’s for about twenty minutes when a large group of handicapped adults and three caretakers came into the restaurant.  They sat at four tables not far from mine.  I tried not to stare but I was fascinated with the caretakers as they efficiently attended to their clients.  I have to admit that I never would have had that much patience.

I picked up my pen and looked back at my notebook just as I heard extremely loud, barking noises coming from one of the handicapped adults.  I have to admit the sounds actually unnerved me at first.  I looked up but I couldn’t see who was making the noises.  A wall blocked my view of the whole group of handicapped adults.  I looked away but could not stop hearing the loud guttural growling sounds.  The thought went through my head that maybe I should leave, but I really didn’t want to.  I was relaxed and happy and enjoying my morning.

The noise continued however, as a memory flooded into my brain.  When Mom and I were traveling through the southern states several years ago, we stopped at a place in Cullman, Alabama, called the Ava Maria Grotto.  Known as “Jerusalem in Miniature,” the grotto is a four-acre park that displays 125 miniature replicas of well-known historic landmarks, which were created by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk.  Brother Joseph used many materials, from stones and concrete to clips and buttons, to create his designs.

Mom and I roamed through the grotto looking at the beautiful reproductions of cathedrals and basilicas.  We ended our journey in the small gift shop.  As we were looking around, Mom and I noticed a bus pulling up in the parking lot.  The bus was decorated with the name of a local school for handicapped adults.  Several of the people getting off the bus were adults who appeared to have some sort of medical condition.  Some people were in wheelchairs; others were being guided by the attendants who led them into the shop.  I was standing on the opposite side of the room.  I was across from the front door, Mom, and the adults who just came into the shop.  One of them was a middle-aged man.  He was extremely tall, well over six feet, and very thin.  He wore jeans, a red windbreaker, and a blue baseball cap.  He lumbered towards Mom and loomed over her.  My tiny mother only came up to the middle of his chest.  She had to crank her head way back on her neck to look up at his face as he stood before her.  Nervously, I started towards them and felt a slight panic as the man suddenly lifted his hands, gently laid them on Mom’s shoulders, and stared into her eyes. Then he gently said, “God bless you, my child.”  He pulled his hands away then and lumbered off with the rest of his party.  I finally made it over to Mom’s side, where she stood looking stunned.  She didn’t move at all; she just stood staring straight ahead.

“Mom?  Mom, are you okay?” I asked her as I touched her arms gently.  She turned slowly to look at me.

“Did you see his eyes?” she asked me.  “They were glowing.  They were so golden.”  Then she smiled a slow sweet smile.  “I was just touched by an angel,” she whispered.

We didn’t talk at all as we walked outside, climbed into the truck, and drove away from the grotto.  In fact, we didn’t talk for a while after that.  Mom seemed lost in the experience for a while.  I don’t really know what exactly happened, but Mom was quiet and peaceful as she leaned back in her seat, just watching the scenery roll by as we headed towards Mississippi.

Suddenly, the memory faded as I looked up.   One of the patients in McDonalds walked over to the trashcan that was close to my table.  Then he abruptly turned and was standing right next to me.  He was about 5’6” tall and very thin.  His straight black hair hung down over his plastic glasses.  The thick glasses emphasized the way his eyes crossed uncontrollably.  His hands flapped in an agitated gesture and his feet took turns tapping against the floor.  Then suddenly he smiled a radiant smile that displayed crooked, broken teeth.  “Hi,” he shouted to me.

“Hi,” I answered back and the most amazing sense of calm came over me as I talked him.  “How are you today?” I asked him.

“Great,” he answered a little too enthusiastically as his hands continually clapped together.  “How are you?” he asked.

“Great,” I told him.

He smiled again, “Okay…bye.”

“Bye,” I said and waved to him.  As he waved back, I suddenly felt incredibly peaceful.  Is this what Mom had felt at the grotto?  However, I didn’t feel that I was touched by an angel.  I felt instead touched by a human being.  I felt touched by another person and that touch lead to a connection with God and the universe.

As the attendants began to lead the handicapped adults out of the restaurant, I started thinking about all the times I came home from school in tears.  I remember my mom hugging me as I cried on her shoulder, “Mommy, what’s wrong with me?”  She had no answer for me mainly because she didn’t believe anything was wrong.  However, I had always felt different from other people.  I have never seemed to fit in anywhere.  Because of the bullying I had experienced, for most of my childhood, I thought it was wrong to be different.   As a result, I found myself shying away from people who are considered different, unpredictable, or unstable.  Now, I know better though.  As I watched the attendants lead their clients out of the restaurant, I felt  a sense of belonging I hadn’t ever known before.  People are not angels.  There are just people who can touch others in an angelic way and our differences are a reflection of the many facets of a loving God.

Fast Food Lessons

I admit that I was a little aggravated last Friday as I stood in line to place my order at McDonald’s in Indio, California. I had stopped by the fast food restaurant on my way to Laughlin, Nevada, which is about a three-hour drive from my home in Palm Desert, California. I had a simple plan. I would leave my apartment at 8 am and be in Laughlin around 11:30. I decided to stop for breakfast along the way.

Instead of sitting in the long line at the drive-thru, I decided to go inside the restaurant. I was third in line behind a family of five and two elderly gentlemen. I didn’t think this would be a problem. It shouldn’t take me long to get my food and then I could be on my way. There were a few problems though. First, the three children in the family couldn’t decide what they wanted to eat. I tried to keep myself calm but I couldn’t help emitting a few dramatic sighs. My right foot began to tap in a steady loud beat upon the floor. After a few minutes of deliberation, the family finally came to an agreement and placed their order.

Finally, the two elderly men stepped up to the counter. The cashier, who looked to be about seventeen-years-old, took their order and then told the men the price of their meal. “That’s not right,” one of the men started screaming. “You’re over charging me. There’s no way in hell that can be more than 10 dollars.” When my rolling eyes finally settled back down into my face, I looked at the young clerk, and suddenly felt tears threatening to fall. I watched the young girl’s hands shake and heard her voice quiver as she went back over the order with the two men. It all became rather confusing as the two men continued to yell and berate the young woman as she tried to help them.

I suddenly saw myself so many years ago. My first job was at a McDonald’s in Kansas City, Kansas. I remember days when I went home in tears because of the vicious words and hateful attitudes of some of the customers. Now, my heart was breaking for this young woman who was just trying to do her job. I felt really ashamed of my own impatience then and took deep breaths to adjust my own attitude as I watched the young cashier bravely try to work with the two men. Finally, one of the managers came up to help and the situation was settled.

I walked up to the counter then and said hello before placing my order. Then as I paid for my food, I whispered to the cashier that she was doing a great job. She smiled at me for just a moment and then bit her lip as shook her head. I stepped away then and stood off to the side as I waited for my food to arrive.

The two elderly men’s order was ready first. I watched as they stepped back up to the counter and then yelled at the young clerk because the order wasn’t correct. The two men laughed to each other and whispered loudly words like “idiot” and “stupid.”

As one of the men walked by me, he stated, “Stupid people here don’t know what they’re doing.”

“Well, you could have a better attitude!” The words were out of my mouth before I could stop them. I had shocked myself by answering back to him.

“What did you say?” the man suddenly leaned towards me menacingly. “What did you say to me?”

And I said it again. “You could have a better attitude!”

He stared at me for just a moment before shouting, “You try standing in line for 15 minutes and see how you feel.”

He turned to walk away from me as I stated, “I just did. I was standing behind you! I heard every mean word you said. You didn’t have to be so hateful!”

I don’t know if he had heard me because he was already walking to a table as I stepped up to the counter to get my order. I grabbed the bag, said thank you to the clerk, and walked away. I had to pass by the table where the two elderly men were sitting to get to the door. As I walked by I heard one of them muttering, “Damn stupid woman telling me I should have a better attitude.”

I didn’t say anything then, but I walked out of the restaurant with my head held high. A strange sort of energy suddenly filled me. In the past, I never would have said anything to anyone who was so abusive. I would have kept my head down. I would have run for cover. But, now…I am happy that I am beginning to find my own voice…not just for myself but for other people.

You’ve Got Hate Mail

I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me.

A few weeks ago, I opened up my Twitter account and looked at the trending topics. One of the top three was the Miss America pageant that had just taken place the night before. I didn’t watch all of the pageant. Honestly, the production bored me so I flipped between channels for a while before finally deciding to watch the pageant’s talent portion and final crowning. The whole process seemed outdated and just plain sad.

But now, here I was on Twitter reading through some of the tweets that had already been posted. I “favorited” the comments that complained that the pageant did not represent minorities. I completely agreed. Maybe that’s why the pageant had seemed so tedious and obsolete to me. I decided to leave a post of my own.

I quickly wrote, “What year is this? Is America still really doing this? Pageant needs some serious updating! Lack of diversity is disturbing.”

I posted the tweet and didn’t think anything more about it. Though I was sincere in my words, it was just the Miss America pageant, after all. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what would happen next.

About a half hour after my tweet, I received a direct message. “Are you Jewish?”

What?! I was completely confused by this message. “No. Why do you ask?” I answered.

I was shocked by the answer I received. “@JamieZunick Can’t understand why you hate White people and are White.”

What?! I took a closer look now at the profile picture. Oh, no! It was an emblem for a white supremacy group! I didn’t want to get any more involved in this. I ignored the message and refused to answer. Over that afternoon, three more messages, each getting progressively more aggressive, showed up on my Twitter account.

“@JamieZunick The Preamble to the US Constitution says: “for ourselves and OUR Posterity”. This means USA is for Whites People!”

“@JamieZunick Diversity is a code word for White geNOcide”

“@JamieZunick Anti-White piece of shit! The USA is for Whites The Preamble to the US Constitution says: “for ourselves and OUR Posterity”.

I ignored all of the messages. How could an innocent comment about a pageant inspire so much hate? I now understood the purpose of the “Are You Jewish” message. This person must have seen my picture on my account, and assumed, since I am white, my comment about diversity must be due to religion.

Though the messages made me angry, I again choose to ignore the situation. Again, I was probably just naïve. I didn’t predict what would happen next. Over the next few days, more direct messages appeared on my Twitter account.

“@JamieZunick must stick up for minorities no matter what the circumstances”

“@JamieZunick typical liberal white woman. Can’t think for herself.”

“@JamieZunick shut the fuck up”

“@JamieZunick man you’se a cracka! You ain’t BLAK !”

“Coloreds and Marxist Filth in Rabid Rage Over White Miss America… hey @JamieZunick hating UR White race is DISTURBING”

I began to realize what happened then. The original “conversation” had been retweeted among other extremist groups. The whole thing seemed ridiculously bizarre. I would open up my Twitter account to find the little “twitter bird” happily proclaiming, “You’ve been retweeted!” “You just got favorited!” “You have a direct message!” I would then open my page to find incredibly hateful messages.

It was a little upsetting but I knew that extreme people were always looking for extreme responses. Be calm, I told myself. Don’t add more fuel to this situation. I made no response. I didn’t even move to block or report the messages. I was not going to show any weakness…but maybe, I wasn’t showing any strength either.

The next day, in my classes at the college I shared the situation with my students. I thought this would be a great learning experience for all of us. As I described the situation, some of my students began to laugh. “Why are you laughing?” I asked them. “Why is this so funny?”

“People are weird” was the overall comment. “Just one simple comment you made created this whole mess?” they questioned.

One student responded with, “I can’t believe that you didn’t respond to them. I would have answered every one of those comments. I would have loved to argue and fight with them. But that’s just me. Believe me, I wouldn’t have walked away from this fight.”

One student told the class, “A few months ago, I had someone send me a series of hateful messages calling me all kinds of filthy names. It was really mean.”

I asked her who had sent the messages and why.

“You know that show Catfish?” the student replied. Well, they had one woman on there who was really cruel and hateful. She was ripping people off. I sent her a message asking her how she could be so mean to everyone. And she responded by calling me all kinds of horrible names.”

“Were you upset by her response?” I asked her.

“Oh, no,” my student answered as she smiled, “I was just excited to get a message from someone who had been on TV!”

The whole room was silent for a moment before dissolving into laughter. Ah, the power of the media!

Though the situation finally began to dissipate over the next few days, I still felt dirty, disgusted, and confused. Did I do the right thing by not responding? How could I argue against people so filled with hate? But by not engaging, did I make a mockery of my own beliefs? Did I deny the power of my own convictions? But if I did respond, what would it have proven? What would have been accomplished? I would have just gotten caught up in an endless web of hate. Would I be able to keep my own sense of fairness and compassion? Or would I have been just as detestable and cruel as those who harassed me?

That’s when a thought occurred to me. I don’t need to fight anyone to testify to my beliefs. If I want to prove my convictions, I must live my convictions. I need to continually treat all people with respect and kindness. Violence doesn’t stop with more violence. The only thing that stops violence is love. Instead of fighting, I hoped that this experience would help me love more, have more patience, and see each person as an individual worthy of respect and kindness.

So, to all of my “haters”, the ones who have told me to shut the fuck up and identified me as a Anti-white piece of shit….thank you. Thank you for showing me that I will always choose kindness and consideration. Thank you for showing me that my life is filled with goodness, respect, and compassion. God bless you.