It’s not nice to be yelled at, ever, especially first thing in the morning and when you are totally innocent of the crime. Well, not totally, but ignorantly unaware that I had done anything wrong. At least not wrong enough to warrant that finger in my face and the hot, stale, coffee breath suffocatingly close to me. It’s especially difficult to take abuse from someone who you have observed for three days mis-managing a fairly important job. I wasn’t the first to be scolded. No, each day of our work, she had chosen a separate person to demean, criticize, humiliate, to, in essence, blame for her incompetence. I said none of this with that finger still jabbing in my face. But my Irish temper and big mouth would not stay quiet (I could hear my dad and mom murmuring behind me, “For once in your life, keep quiet!”).
I know better than to react when this kind of anger is fuming too close to me. Haven’t I read over the years about the best way to dispel a hot situation is to be cool? Say nothing, smile, be calm, take deep breaths, accept that she’s having a bad day, and move on. I did none of that. I railed against her injustice, pointed out her errors to her and then, unwisely, told her to Get-Out-Of-My-Space! “What did you say?”, she screamed at me, finger jabbing and getting even closer to my defenceless body. I thought it safer at that point to move back from that finger and breath and, finally, shut my mouth. Now, calmly, trying desperately to keep tears from flowing, I said to her, in as pleasant a voice as I could muster out of my humiliation, “I understand. If you feel that way, perhaps I had better just go home.” I thought it sounded nobel, a peace offering. No, she’d have none of that. She wanted me around to poke at for the whole day. So, instead, like a wrathful god, she banished me with that pointed finger to the far reaches of the hallway, away from any witnesses to her injustice.
With head held high because I knew she was watching me, I walked past those classrooms and to my little table in the corner. I didn’t cry — even though the tears were ready to gush. This girl does have some pride, after all. Instead, as I settled at my little lonely table away from everyone, I, finally, remembered my lessons. I sat down closed my eyes, took deep breaths and tried to meditate the shrillness of her voice out of my head…then I called Judith (which was probably against one of her unknown rules also, but at this point I didn’t care). In her yogi way, Judith said, “You should never let people disrespect you that way. You should have told her that and walked away. You let her trigger you.” Yeah, yeah, but, hey, in the heat of the moment it’s hard to remember all these lessons.
Somehow, the fact that this work was paying below minimum wage made her tirade against me even more unacceptable. Did she feel that as a supervisor and making a whole $7 more an hour than me and the others, entitled her to treat us with so much disrespect? Folks, just because all of us accepted working for minuscule wages does not mean that we are idiots, stupid, ignorant, incapable of doing a plethora of other jobs or lazy. It just means we needed some bucks, or, maybe, in some cases (not mine), just wanted to get out of the house.
Eight hours by yourself gives you a lot of time to think over things. As I sat there, I replayed the scene from the morning and all the different scenarios that could have played out if I had reacted differently. What if I had been calm? What if had politely asked her to stop disrespecting me as a person? What if…what if…what if. But it was what it was, eh? She walked by a few times that day (I was on route to the Washrooms) but didn’t say anything more, which was ok with me. Then, into hour number four, I had a flashback of myself in my sadder, angrier days and a particular incident where I sounded and looked a lot like this woman had this morning — minus the finger jabbing. At that time, I was reacting to something out of my own fear and unhappiness and caused unhappiness in others. It didn’t make me justify this woman’s shameful and humiliating ways towards some of her staff, but it did make me forgive her.
As if to reward me for finally getting to that realization and that forgiveness, there on the wall behind me were a scattering of “Kindness Quotes” that the students had been putting up during their Be Kind Week. I think they put them there for me to see! Noah, quoting Dr. Seuss, reminded me that I am a good person: “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.” Then Charlotte made me remember an important truth, “Kindness is a present that not everyone gets….” But my favorite was from Ruby, whose words were exactly what I needed and did what they said: “Kindness is being there…and helping hurt people up.”