I heard them ask, where is your husband?
“He’s on his way down to the Gulf,” she said. “Him and another guy have a boat with a skimmer, and they’re going to help out.”
Just as I was about to say how cool I think that is, the man sitting there said, “That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s like spitting in the ocean. It doesn’t make a bit of difference.”
I argued that if everyone did whatever it is they can do then, yes, maybe it would make a difference.
“Do you know how dangerous it is?” his companion sneered. “It’s dangerous just being around that stuff.”
“Yeah, it’s dangerous,” echoed the man.
“And do you think he doesn’t know that?” I asked. “Knowing something is dangerous but doing it anyway for the good of others, that’s heroic.”
“Heroic, my foot,” though he didn’t use the word foot. “It’s stupid, is what is.”
I wanted to scream, How can you say that?
“Why endanger yourself,” he continued, “and your wife and kids to help someone you don’t even know.”
The chill I felt ripple through my back and arms was not due to the late-afternoon winds. The mocked-man’s wife and I stood and walked away, hardly believing what we had just witnessed.
It brought to mind something that had happened earlier in the day. I received an e-mail from a friend who’s been going through all sorts of trials in her personal life, and who’s been the object of scorn from people who claim, or at least used to claim, to be her friends.
In the letter, she was explaining how she was going to separate herself from some of the people and activities she loves and enjoys because she can’t put up with all the ridicule and judgment that’s being flung her way. At the same time that e-mail came in, my phone rang, and it was one of my closest confidants. He doesn’t know the woman from the e-mail, but I shared it with him, in case he had any advice, which he often does. He said, “You have to find a way to empower this person.”
Spurred on by his urging, I wrote a letter telling her I’m not judging her and neither was I paying attention to the rumors. I told her that, obviously, she can do what she wants, but if her decision to step away and say goodbye was because of the judgments and condemnations of a graceless few, then clumsiness, immaturity and self-righteousness would be reinforced, rather than the consciousness-expansion for which we aim. She wrote back saying how much she appreciated and agreed with the message, and related how empowered she felt to not run away and disengage from something that brings her joy.
The next thing I know, I’m at a party and she’s there, as are some of her accusers, and everyone’s talking and smiling, and interacting with each other, and it was good all the way around — all because she was made to feel better about herself.
Contrast that with the couple bagging on the guy going to help out in the Gulf of Mexico. It makes me wonder why in the world would they, or anyone, want to rain on someone else’s parade? What do they get out of it, except maybe further entrenchment in their own self-satisfied isolation?
It takes power to do or to accomplish anything, whether it’s lifting up a weight, driving the car down to the corner store, or standing up for one’s principles. About the best thing we can do, it seems to me, is to encourage each other. The most despicable thing is to scoff at someone trying to do some good.
Ron Colone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.