How do you show love and compassion to someone who has just done something spectacularly disgusting, or said something hateful, in public?
Last night I took Angelic Daughter to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra play the score of West Side Story along with the film at the major summer music festival near here – a festival where I have been attending concerts and dance performances for over 50 years.
We had aisle seats, by design, in case of need for an early exit, and had to rise three times to allow those sitting toward the center of our row to pass. Once everyone was seated, I began to peruse the program while waiting for the show to start.
It was then I noticed that the elderly lady next to me was rummaging around in her large purse for something.
The next time I glanced up, it turned out that something was…
She was flossing her teeth, right next to me, in public, with visible chunks of her dinner dangling from the floss, which she was using to make at least two, maybe three rounds of her mouth.
This was without question the grossest thing I have ever seen someone do at a concert performance (or anywhere in public, for that matter, and that includes the guys who routinely used to pee against the fence of our city townhome’s backyard, which bordered an alley).
I put my program up next to my head, to shield my hair and face from chunks of her dinner flying from her mouth, or dropping from their tightrope of floss. I was thinking, “what the hell is the MATTER with you? In what universe is this anywhere close to acceptable behavior? THIS IS THE GROSSEST THING I HAVE EVER BEEN FORCED TO SIT NEXT TO! Couldn’t you have done this in A CLOSED STALL IN THE LADIES’ ROOM BEFORE THE CONCERT?”
When I slightly lowered and peered around my program, she was still at it, and continued for another two or three minutes, whereupon she began rummaging around again, and produced some kind of lollipop which she popped into the now flossed-and-flung orifice.
It occurred to me that maybe she had some medical condition that made her behave this way – maybe the lollipop was medicinal? Or calming or something? She seemed not to have noticed or was unperturbed by my shielding myself.
Then the orchestra, instead of launching right into the overture, began to play the national anthem. I don’t know if that was because it was the opening night of the orchestra’s summer residency, or if it was a gesture toward unity based on the theme of the film – hope (tragically dashed, in the movie) of overcoming differences based on background.
Never one to miss an opportunity to overdo it, I launched in to singing it, along with most of the rest of the audience. But my rendition comes with the showy high note toward the end — “o’er the la-and of the free-EEEEEE!”
And as the anthem ended, dental floss lady turned and, with an utterly innocent smile, complimented me on my voice.
I said thank you, and added a little flourish with my “fit and flare” dress and the black petticoat (worn as homage to the dance number “America” in the film, which has a lot of dress-and-petticoat flourishing in it).
When she looked at me with that wide-eyed smile, I didn’t tell her how disgusting and gross flossing her teeth in public was, because I decided she genuinely didn’t know that’s how others would view it, or that she had some medical reason to do it and had to do it there, because otherwise she’d be late for the concert.
Then today, I attended a town hall hosted by my representative in Congress. There was a couple there, trembling with anger over anything having to do with what they called “illegals,” especially extending health care coverage to them. The magnitude of their anger, fear and hatred was loud and clear to everyone in the room.
After the meeting, I was walking back to my car, and there they were, Mr. and Mrs. Angry.
I asked Mrs. Angry if I could ask her a an honest, genuine question. She stopped ranting long enough for me to ask, “if you tripped over someone who was obviously dying of thirst, would you ask them about their citizenship before giving them a drink of water?”
And she said, “never.”
So somewhere in there, hiding in the cracks between fear, anger and hatred, there was an teaspoon of compassion.
She continued her rant but I was able to tell her as I walked away that I was glad to know that she didn’t lack compassion.
Instead of getting into a heated argument about what an ignoramus she was.
Biting my tongue, I remain,
Your high-note singing, dress-swishing, hoping-for-unity,