May 20 • 11:18 AM

Falling down's a good thing sometimes

May 07, 2008
"I don't know what's wrong with me except to say I think I'm falling down," Dawn says.

In our family, 'falling down' always refers to the Michael Douglas movie of the same name. In it, he plays a character who has gone through life doing everything right, working hard, taking care of his family, being relatively kind and compliant and tolerant, reasonable, well spoken and, well, invisible for the most part. One particular day, though, one particular comment from a rude and clueless fast food clerk, he just plain has enough, and will be pushed around no longer. From that point on, he is no longer tolerant...and invisible no more. We've all been there, we've all 'fallen down' once or twice. Sometimes even in front of each other.

"I couldn't help myself," Dawn continues. "I had to let her know that I didn't deserve that gesture."

'That gesture' is the one commonly made with the hand. It has been creatively described by a very witty coworker as 'half a peace sign.' If you still can't picture it, let me just say that it does not involve the forefinger. And the gesture was made to her not in jest by a friend or coworker. It came from a perfect stranger who somehow thought it was not only appropriate, but okay.

Anyhow, Dawn goes on to describe her afternoon.

"I was backing out of a parking space at the grocery store and I didn't see her," she says. "Once I realized there was a car behind me, I stopped, of course, and raised my hands in a type of 'I'm sorry' gesture. Could someone possibly think I would want to hit anyone with my new car?"

She's talking about her brand new Chrysler 300, a stylin' gangsta'-looking machine that she's totally in love with. It's the first new car that she's had in ten years—she's not about to let anything happen to it.

"So she honks and then she flips me off," Dawn says incredulously. "I couldn't believe it."

I could. People can be downright rude. Some people make a habit of it. Others are so stressed out and uptight and in a hurry that an innocent mistake is viewed as a personal assault.

"I just had to call her on it," Dawn continues. "So I drove over to her parking space and rolled down my window. It looked like her mom and her kid were in the car with her. I said 'excuse me, do you really think I deserved that gesture?' And she said 'I thought you were going to hit my vehicle' real snotty like.

"I said 'do you think I would deliberately back into your vehicle with this?'" Dawn adds, explaining that she was making sweeping gestures over her beloved 300. "Then she says, 'kiss my #@%.' Can you believe it?"

Again, actually I could, but I keep silent. Dawn picks up the story. Her voice is a mix of sounds—exasperation, mirth, sadness.

"I was silent for a minute. Then I said 'that's the way you talk to a complete stranger in front of your mother and your child?' and rolled up my window and drove off," she says. "What's wrong with me? Am I falling down?"

I can tell by her voice that she's seriously wondering. Questioning her behavior. Feeling the same old feelings that make a person 'fall down'—like she did something wrong when she didn't. Like not taking rude behavior as status quo in your life. Like there's something wrong with you when you've been caring, compassionate and kind your whole life and you still get treated like something less than human. Like you know you should just 'turn the other cheek,' but when you do, it gets slugged just the same.

"Nothing's wrong with you," I reply. I mean it, too. Knowing my sister as I do, the 'kiss my @#%' comment alone could have invited a host of snappy replies that would have hit close to the bone—if not a little below the belt—and render the speaker helplessly silent. Her wit is razor sharp and delivery is nothing short of stellar. Truly. She's a cross between an attorney and a stand up comedian, so you can imagine the intellectual sarcasm just dripping from her lips.

I'm proud of her for not doing so. And I like that she decided to ask the woman what compelled her to make the gesture in the first place. I like that she pointed out the unladylike language the young lady was using when she spoke to her, and that she pointed out that she was using it in front of an older person and a child. She gave her a gift, really. But probably not. People who speak that way don't really think about anyone else. Chances are they don't know any better. But at least the kid might have learned something about self respect, and about being accountable for foul and nasty behavior. It's never good to put up with that. Sometimes it's truly best to fall down.

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