Friday, July 20, 2012

Not My Problem...Yet.

I was walking out of Walmart when my ears were accosted by the words.

"Get your ass in the store, woman."

I looked up.

"Get your ass in the store. Get your f**king ass in the store."

A couple was walking across the parking lot coming toward me. The woman was walking ahead of the man, her face gave no expression. "F**k you, bitch, get your ass in the store." The man trailed behind her, taunting her. For a moment I thought, "maybe they're playing." Maybe, he was teasing her. But his rant continued. "F**k you, bitch." Again and again. I stood, appalled. I didn't know what to do as I walked in their direction. I wanted to say "no, f**k YOU, asshole, don't talk to her like that!" But I knew better.

Mr. Perfect had recently sat before the gun board to get his concealed weapons permit. He told me how many people were there. He relayed to me the story of a man who had a domestic violence charge on his rap sheet. The man on the board fidgeted, obviously uncomfortable giving this man the right to carry a weapon. The wife hadn't pressed charges. Having no conviction, the board had no reason to say no. The man got his permit. I knew too many people carry weapons. I knew this man before me could be one of them. I couldn't react for my own safety. I couldn't react because it might cause him to go home and beat her. I stood helpless and stared.

She turned, just slightly and told him to shut up. He continued his tirade of profanities. I stood in the parking lot and stared him in the eyes. I willed him to look at me. I willed him to challenge me. I dared him to turn his hate toward me, a stranger, who would not have been willing to take it. I refused to ignore him.

The woman turned around and walked back to her car. He followed her. I walked toward my vehicle. She got into the driver's seat, he got into the passenger's seat and I got into my truck. She stared ahead looking exhausted. He rolled down his window and propped his elbow out. He wasn't a young man, born into a culture that wore pants around their asses and called women bitches. He had a head of silver gray hair; he was born of an era where people knew better. I followed them from the parking lot, my hand on my phone, waiting for him to lay a hand on her. They didn't speak, and I didn't breathe as we slowly drove the expanse of asphalt to the main road. We turned in opposite directions, toward opposite lives. 

I left Walmart with new underwear, a DVD and a question burning in my brain: Did I do enough?

I kept thinking, 40 years ago this wouldn't have been OK. A man walking through a parking lot yelling F bombs, in front of women and children would have been looked at as a crazy person. He could have been arrested. Now no one even looked up. Nobody got involved. It wasn't their problem. We live in a world where everyone has access to everybody's business, but nobody really cares. No one cares because it doesn't affect them; but it does. His words affected my ears. He WAS my problem.

Recently, Michigan passed a law allowing motorcycle riders to ride without wearing a helmet. Some people rejoiced, because it was their heads and their business. Even people who thought it was a stupid rule said, "whatever, it's Darwinism, weed out the idiots, it's their problem." But freedom isn't a personal thing in a society. EVERYTHING we do and are affects other people. If a person dies, riding a motorcycle with no helmet, does it only affect them? What about the person that accidentally hits them and in a moment becomes a killer? What about the children that might be in the car or the drivers on the road who witness the smearing of the cyclist's brains on the street? What about the EMS workers and the doctors who will work three times as hard to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, called away from their lives and families because the rider wanted the freedom to be unsafe? We affect each other.

Individuality is a right. Who we worship, how we dress, what we read and believe is a right in this country, and thank goodness. But how we act and what we do cannot be. We are a society made up of communities of people, and our actions affect others. No longer can we afford to be OK with violence and with hatred. No longer can we sit idly by and smirk off people we deem "not our problem." This is reality, one cannot simply change the channel and move on. There was a time when certain behaviors were shameful, because people said something. It is time we spoke up and out about what is not OK.

Staring evil down and willing it to become your problem is not enough. 

I write this with a heavy heart thinking of the many victims, families and friends affected by the horrible Colorado movie theater shooting. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I know I will always wonder about the Walmart woman. And it makes me wonder if we also let this shooter slide by, until he became...our problem.


  1. Well said. We have fallen victim to the shooter...whether by tongue or by gun. God be with us all.

  2. I follow you on FB but this is the first time I have made it over to your blog. This was so wonderfully said. I will be stopping by more often. Thank you for being here and sharing w/ us. It is appreciated. :) I post as Lori Stevens-Nicholas on FB.

  3. Very well said. Thank you for sharing. What CAN we do as individuals, and as women? It's daunting, but you speak the truth...

  4. Perhaps it is just my age (please don't ask) but my first thought as I read this was "I'll bet he has some form of dementia and she's trying to keep him out of a rest home." Her reactions to his incivility seem more a decision to spare other customers than any fear of him.

    In these days of seemingly endless violent tragedy, it is reasonable to jump to the conclusion you did. Still, I think we need to remember that every person and every couple have their own back story to which we are not and should not be privy. Other people's business is just that, until there are more concrete signs that their business poses a threat to innocent others.

    Had it been me, I would've (and have) asked the woman if there were anything I could do to help her. Sometimes, the request is dismissed; sometimes, it releases a deluge of information; always, there is gratitude for having been seen as an individual carrying a heavy load who is worthy of aid.

    Please don't add false guilt to your already full plate. Sometimes, you just have to trust that you have done what you could. Namaste.

  5. Actually, it was obvious they were fighting. He wasn't that old. And she was OBVIOUSLY mad at him. I work with a lot of older people. I truly do not believe this was the situation. I agree, every person indeed has a back story. I also believe we, as a society put up with way too much indecent behavior under the guise of it being "not our business". We are communities. We need to open our eyes to the way we pass off others in our society.