This week, readjusting to life away from the land of the Happy Blondes, a place where they actually pay for you to attend college among other fantasy-world dreams that become laws in bike-obsessed Nordic countries; my re-immersion has been a little rough. Oddly (or not?) my feeds and news channels have been filled with so many similar stories around the very opposite theme from what I experienced last week.
The theme is: Things people are doing to me that intrude on my right to live in a bubble.
In a bubble, there would be no crying babies on planes. In a bubble, there would be no people telling you that YOUR money should pay for SOMEONE ELSE’S birth control…or schools or fire department or or or. In a bubble, there would be no parents getting special treatment in the workplace. In a bubble there would be no employees at all who need to flex time because of their sick parents, their drug rehab, their chronic but manageable illness, their little league commitments, their jazz band practice, or their volunteer schedule. In a bubble there would be no pregnant woman hoping for a seat on the subway; maybe even that very seat you fought hard to get after a long day of sitting at a desk, dammit.
In a bubble, there would be no people who inconveniently ask for our help, our compassion, our support.*
*Unless it’s “me” who needs the help, compassion or support in which case all bets are off.
Maybe it’s a contentious election season or maybe it’s just something in the air right now, but I feel like I’m watching We The People devolve into some regressive caveman society founded on the principals of I The Individual.
If you don’t mind sliding that soapbox over this way for just a wee second, I’d like to ask, what the heck is going on in the world when we start to lose our sense of empathy?
How is it that we can stop seeing ourselves as inextricably linked, a planet of humans connected to other humans, each with the ability to save lives, raise up our weakest members, maybe even say to the single father at the office, “of course you can go home early. I hope your son is feeling better.” And mean it.
Because one day it may be you asking for some flexibility.
And if not..so what?
When I flew to Spain last year, we were seated behind a toddler who shrieked and screamed the entire overnight flight despite his mother’s desperate attempts to calm him. For eight straight hours. I watched her slowly crumble into a pasty, pale, anxious shell of a woman, eyes rimmed with red, hands twitching with stress; hardly the confident, stylish European woman who had stepped on board with a smiling baby earlier.
Did I fantasize about dumping some Benadryl into the baby’s bottle at some point? Yes indeedy. But the angry glares and foot stomping from the other passengers did not change the situation any more than our sympathetic glances. The only difference is that I landed tired, but happy. Everyone else landed tired, but very very angry.
This weekend, at our annual end-of-summer pilgrimage chez Fairly Oddmother we took our families for a nice hour hike in the woods. I was blown away when I caught Christina’s 9 year-old daughter collecting random wrappers and scraps of garbage off the trail.
“I always pick up the garbage,” she told me. “So we leave it nice for the next people.
That’s one girl who will never live in a bubble.
I pointed it out to Thalia who thought well of the idea (despite being more consumed with amassing acorns than gum wrappers; acorns are a little more unusual in our neck of the woods).
I want so much to teach my girls values like cooperation, compromise, and compassion. I want to surround them with classmates, teachers, adults who value those things too. I love that she spent a weekend with kids who think, “even though those aren’t my wrappers, I’m going to make them my problem to fix.” But I’m terrified that it’s going to get harder. Because more and more, I’m sad to see they will also encounter those people who would tell them that values like compassion are for suckers.