Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Removing the Arrow

I was rude to a young man yesterday. I had to keep from looking at him as I walked past afterward in order not to apologize. I do generally apologize when my Old Stuff gets the better of me and I am a jerk. The thing was, what I said was probably true, if not terribly compassionately rendered. And more, the incident set a match to a smouldering resentment that I have been carrying, like the people of the Stone Age once carried nuggets of living fire in a satchel as they traversed unyielding fields. (I may have made that up but I am pretty sure I heard it in one of the trillion popular science programs I have listened to over the years.

In this most recent manifestation, the resentment is toward TransLink, or whoever it was who came up with the plan of installing a payment system that A) doesn’t work and so robs countless people of extra fares and B) violates the privacy of myself and any other person who, by virtue of illness and poverty, is forced to live on the provincial disability allowance, for our card use is on their records.

You see the sour grapes slowly revealed? And I shall warn you, I am not in the mood to set a metaphor and stick with it. Indeed, I am about to change it again.

The trouble is, beyond the fact that there are some real issues here that have been more than adequately addressed by others, I have an age-old arrow embedded deep in my side, and this Compass Card system, and that loud-voiced, officious young man who forced me to go back and use my card when he could see I had it and could see that the doors of the turnstile were open, and could see that I was burdened with parcels, twist the arrow painfully, and I want to shout.

I do not wish to be on a handicapped pension, though I am insanely grateful to have one. I hate that I am on the dole instead of paid to do work that I am good at, and that all the work I do do, patched together when I am able or done when I run roughshod over my health in order to help someone else or meet some stupid deadline...goes unpaid. This puts me in a class of people who have a lot of choices taken away from them, and who (if they are like me) feel sickly uneasy and undeserving when people starting tossing around the “What do you do for a living?” conversation point.

So from that starting point, I arrive here: I do not want a government deciding they have the right to know every time I get on or off a bus. They already know far too much about me, and they have not proved sympathetic. I do not want them to know where I go or when I go or how often I go, not because anything awful may come of that, though god knows they are pretty imaginative, but because it is my life, my privacy, and I did not invite them. But I need the damn pass, so I have to put up with it.

The arrow goes deeper than the pain of not being able to have a career, a visible job that I can point to and say, see? I do contribute something meaningful to society. I’m good at something. See?

And it goes deeper than the fury of a lifetime of hard, unpaid work. (I listened to Melinda Bloody Gates talking about women’s unpaid work on the CBC yesterday and much as I agreed with her I wanted to pull out my hair that it is she, not one of us in the throng, who leads that march. Because of course everybody knows that it’s a choice for her and Bill. They don’t have to do it. They choose to. Biiiiig difference. However, I really wanted to pull my hair out because she is right and I don’t even half-notice it anymore, the sweat I spill for other people, or for my piddling projects, knowing there will only be the reward of having served. Reward it is, and precious. But.)

It goes to the place where I watched as a child the helpless fury of my elders who could not control the forces in their lives. The education they wished for but knew they couldn’t have. The jobs they had to take, or weren’t allowed to take, or the lovely position of constantly training the person who would then be above you, instead of you ever getting to be the boss, though you knew the place inside out. The muffled outcry I would hear or merely see in their faces as they watched the tube, talked with each other, looked thunder at me. We were a class hobbled, and we knew it, and we choked on our helplessness.

So when this young turd got all sniffy and officious yesterday, when he forced me to leave the place I had already entered and struggle to get my card out although I had too many things already in my hands, I saw in a flash, because of the tweaking of the arrow, that he was a part of that whole ugly dance. One of the ones who gets to pass the tweaking on to someone else. Had he himself been pierced by the arrow of helpless rage? Of a life that rapped his bones and forced him into places he never wished to go, banned him from the places he wanted, and ought, to be? Or was he one of the so-called lucky ones who never have to ask, who get more than they can possibly need, who learn the art of ordering people around just naturally? In our split second’s knowledge of each other, I could not know. What I did know was that he reminded me of so many someones in my long and bottom-rung life, from my father, trying to be the Dad, ordering me around on issues that were really not his concern, to the man in the jewellery store who cleaned the glass after I had touched it, and knew that I was only dreaming of a purchase that would never occur, to—well, you get the picture.

This young lad got huffy, and I saw red. Instead of pulling out the arrow as I have tried (and succeeded in) doing so many times in recent years, and graciously going on my way, I stopped, struck by his attitude, and blurted out,

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you? Getting to push your grownups around?”

Walked back to the turnstile. Hauled out my Compass Card. Hit the stupid glass thing that opens the already open door. Bustled, like the generations of women and men before me, eyes ahead and studiously averted from the boss-man, knowing he could throw me out, write me up, give me yet another hard time—hell, remarks like that can get you in lots of trouble on the bottom rung.

I’m not actually on the bottom rung though, and little did I know it as a kid, but I wasn’t even then. We had a house. My dad had a job. My mum was willing and able to run the house. We ate real food regularly.

Those are big deals.

And now, I have a room (rented) and stuff, and friends who help me in many ways, and even love me, and I have talents, and some skills, and best of all, some belief in myself and the goodness of life. I no longer stare at the arrow in my side and wonder whether I should pull it out and bleed to death, or grind it more deeply in and die of pain. I no longer look for places to sleep in empty cars and ditches. I no longer beg on the street. And I have never had to do any of that in a country where street people are even more sternly dealt with than they are here.

But the arrow goes in early, and it goes in deep. Your flesh grows around it. Your personality follows its shape.

How to remove the arrow, and save the victim? How to have the victim refrain from hurling similar arrows into other targets?

I wanted to apologize to the lad because I know I am better than that remark. And I know he is. I have at times risen above this knee-jerk rage and made connections with people who were screwing me around and we have risen together above our anger. The only things that have helped me get to that place are the accepting, calming self-awareness cultivated in mindfulness meditation, and the long, long unrolling of my life, where as in Groundhog Day I get to pile up pitifully a thousand times and try to do better the next one.

Message to brain: You can’t change the new Unfair Card system that TransLink has adopted. If you really want to, you can agitate for change. But either way, you had better come up with a strategy to deal with it, and let it go. That poor sod may have been officious, and he may well have enjoyed bossing people around. But as the saying goes, that’s his problem, not yours. And if you wanted to help him with it, speaking as though he was four years old might not have been the way.

Sigh. Funny thing is, I was having a brain fart. I couldn’t remember the word “elders”. Which would still have been snarky, but might not have silenced him so effectively.

Sorry, SkyTrain guy. My bad.


Image: Royal Oak Skytrain platform by Steve Kwan [CC BY 2.0]

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