Three women and a whole lot of hair color pervade the small corner of a hair salon. Age matters little in salon talk so I spun around in my chair and slipped into the conversation.
"You have to give kindness to everyone."
"Yeah, regardless of what they look like whatever they doin'."
"Some people make you the reason for all of their problems. That just ain't true."
Okay. Time to test my standing in the group dynamic.
"Yeah, well... think about it. In a field like banking, you never know what is going on in people's lives beyond the moment you get. It's like what I tell my friends in medical school or who are doctors: you get this one interaction at the bedside of someone in that hospital bed. You don't know what choices they have made that led them there or the ones they will make beyond."
Four heads nodded in agreement.
"Especially true in banking."
As I made this statement, a certain gravity hit the pit of my stomach and guilt washed over my consciousness. Lately, I did not feel so sure that I practiced what I preached. I shook. I dimmed my voice. Where did my etiquette and awareness go?
This incident bridged into three days ago when a man walked into an art market.
The summertime, New Orleans heat, midday -- the sun dispenses its death rays among one and all. A man steps into the storefront and glances around. He lingers his gaze at a wall for a few more seconds than comfortable for me. Today's heat index could fry anyone's brain, however, so a few more seconds of staring should not be surprising. Yet no greeting left my mouth for the man with the sack on his back and an absent look in his eyes.
I knew it then, and I know it more now: I felt that this man did not deserve my attention.
How could I impose such an idea upon a stranger?
This all befitting as earlier that same week one of my dearest friends - a close love, a confidant - informed me of my inability to realize how a situation involving me and a mutual friend inflicted deep emotional scarring. With her, I had an opportunity to apologize. To this man who walked into my life for less than five minutes? Not so much.
Sure -- this could be a lesson on reminding myself to be a kind person, but I took it as much more than that. I cycled through the age game and its corresponding fears:
Am I growing jaded?
What are my values? Do I stand for them?
One more time: do I practice what I preach?
My questions moved from higher matters to those closer to home.
How could I do that to my best friend?
What is happening to me?
Am I selfish?
Where else have I acted similarly?
To whom do I apologize?
Maybe this is not a phase. Maybe this is some lull in my life and the vibrancy of "being good" loses lumens by the year. Perhaps my summer travels sped up an inner source of cynicism that a slapped-on smile cannot appease. Discussing my adventures with others makes me feel pretentious and privileged; casually dropping on a stranger, "Oh! I love Vietnam - top to bottom!" aligns more with shame rather than joy in my mind.
Regardless of what provokes the inner turmoil, it bothers me. I circled around my coffee shop perch and tears gathered in my eyes as I looked at each individual. Writing this article made me ponder the choices others make every day and how they intertwine. Who is making good ones and what to make of this sudden feeling of communal responsibility?
Apparently, we're all making enough inconsiderate ones to prompt beauty shop talk, and I'm no exception. Even in recognizing I can only change myself, my slipping of courtesy can slide into rude and crash into abhorrent real fast.
I want to consider all of this - realization to application - a lesson and a way to test my ability to remain aware, but life piles on more things to overwhelm, moving me away from the forefront of the issue.
Nevertheless, no excuses. My manners hang on the end of confusion, but may this cliffhanger end in the good graces of social and personal etiquette before I become the gossip of the beauty salon.