Offending Everyone

A few years ago now I convinced myself that going out at night after 9 pm was an okay decision. I mean, I’m a night owl, right? That’s me just getting into my groove. What I forgot was that my “groove” is solitude and a book and a comfortable bed.

I have rheumatoid arthritis, have for about 17 years now. I’m relieved you wouldn’t know it to look at me, but it’s not as easy as it sounds either. I’m not a social butterfly for several reasons, and arthritis is one of those.

When I went with my friend to a bar to hear a new folk duo at 9 pm, I was really excited. I kind of forgot life happened outside a house after it got dark. And I love folk music and beer so this seemed like a great idea.

The bar, which has lots of other redeeming values, is very low on seats and we got there late which left us standing for most of the show which was about one and a half hours of me standing on concrete in fabric shoes. I might as well have been barefoot.

It’s uncomfortable for most people, but when you have arthritis this uncomfortableness is compounded. What a lot of people tend to miss is that pain is not just painful (obviously) it’s also exhausting. I was pretty well shot after about an hour.

Now, you’re asking yourself, couldn’t I have just asked someone at one of those tables to switch? Couldn’t I have finagled myself a seat? Of course. But when you look normal and claim arthritis (which everyone knows only happens to people in their 80s) and you’re ousting people from their well earned comfort to no comfort? Yes, I don’t do this. I’ll stand, thank you.

Eventually enough of the more parent-looking people left and my friend and I got seats. The music was lovely, I was exhausted and I put my head down on the table to enjoy its soothing and relaxing quality better. When the show was over and we were leaving I found one of the two in the band and blurrily (remember, tired) turned to him and said, “Thank you, you guys were fantastic, I loved listening to you.”

And he said, “Yeah, we could tell”, and then shouldered past me.

Now at the time, I was so flattered! He’d seen how much the music moved me! Wow. I’d made a connection with a stranger at a bar and we were on the same page. I was stunned and elated and, frankly still exhausted and not processing things correctly.

It dawned on me a couple days later that he’d been cold in what he said, curt. And then I thought about how I’d looked at the end of the show, sleeping on my arms, not watching them at all.

Oh no. He was being sarcastic. You’d think I’d know that when I see it, but in this case it was so far from where I’d actually been that I was blown away. I wanted to tell him that what he’d seen hadn’t been what he thought he’d seen. I wanted him to know that even though I didn’t look the way he’d wanted, I’d sacrificed a lot that night to stay and listen, and I wasn’t sorry I had.

But here we are, years later, and every time their music comes on my ipod this is what I think of even as I’m singing all the words to each song.

It’s so easy to take offense; it’s so easy to see something and assume the worst. And the truth is I sometimes enjoy being offended, do you know what I mean? It’s fun to have someone to rail against. I think it’s because I so rarely have something to be genuinely offended by. And the times when I could have been genuinely offended I’ve usually been too surprised to do anything about it. But the suggestion of offense is just irresistible.

Even now, it’s possible that my first reading of his words was correct. Who knows? Maybe he was what I perceived as curt but really it was shyness or embarrassment. There’s no way to know now. There’s no way to clear the air.

I had a handicapped sticker in my car for a few years there. And I would go places in a bad mood and I would park in the handicapped spots and just wait for someone to come up to me and say “hey, you can’t park there, that’s for handicapped people.” And then I would just tear them to PIECES. “You don’t know me. Just because I don’t look handicapped, you think that means you know what handicapped means? You want to talk about my handicap? Let’s talk…” and then just totally lay into the person.

It never happened, thankfully. Because that imaginary person, however much I might view them as a jerk, it’s not how they see it. They can only see a social justice hero out defending the rights of the handicapped, a group of people I can only nominally count myself included as a member.

And there are people that park in handicap only spots who shouldn’t. And there are people that are disgusting enough to yell at someone who is handicapped because they’re looking for an excuse to be a bully.

And there will always be those people. And you know what, there’s also a lot of handicapped people that are jerks. A handicap doesn’t automatically make you a good person. A lot of handicapped people continue to be plagued by the fact that they’re still people. And people can suck a lot of the time.

But mostly what I’m trying to say is this: there’s always going to be injustice in the world, and sometimes that injustice is going to be unfairly directed at you. You’ve got a lot of ways to handle that when someone comes at you and I really hope that you consider them as more than the screaming insensitive jerkface you see before you, because odds are they too have a lot going on in their life, and they can’t wait to take offense either.

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