Monday night was book-club-with-mom night. After we finished discussing the book (Old School, by Tobias Wolff), the conversation turned to a question posed by one of our members: What’s a message we could send to everyone that would change the world?
I said nothing at first, and some of the other women generated ideas involving, “Just Smile” or “Give someone a hug.” I was highly skeptical, and said so. Sure, if you were hanging out on the Upper East Side you might change the world, but the few times I’ve smiled at someone, I’ve been met with either hostility or a kind of friendliness I’m not interested in. (“I don’t know who this guy you’re dating is, but I’ll you know it’s REALLY hard to find tall Jewish men.”)
So I played what I like to call the Q train card. (The Q train card is what happens if you go to Brearley and then have the good fortune to move to a marginal neighborhood. You get to act even more morally superior to everyone than you did when you were just an over-intellectualized, sweatpants clad, upper-east-sider.) I told them if that they would only ride the Q train to Parkside with me, they’d see that it would take a lot more than “doing onto others as you’d have them do to you” or smiling to “change the world.” I told them that the kind of people I saw everyday were fearful and unhappy and pleasantries were futile.
I felt so smart until the next morning when I was dashing for the train and my swinging shoulder bag knocked into a woman—causing her to spill her coffee. I apologized eagerly three times, but she was pissed. Relentlessly. I moved on.
But I felt really guilty. I get so furious when people knock into me, or when men take up too much space on the subway. I’m indignant about how rude everyone else is; that was the point I was trying to make to my mom’s book club. But no one had ever knocked coffee on me. In keeping with another argument I’d made to the book club–you can’t conquer selfishness–my first thought was: I have it coming. Someone is going to knock coffee on me. Soon.
It happened sooner than I thought. The next morning at Guy and Gallard, some guy and his backpack swirled around knocked my coffee all over my hands and the floor. The guy apologized, and accepted readily, holding back from explaining that I was actually being karmically punished for a similar crime the previous day and it wasn’t his fault at all.
I was actually feeling sort of giddy and relived that I received my punishment, and concluded this particular cycle, when suddenly, before I could reach for my wallet at the check out counter, I heard a voice say, “wait! I’ve got your coffee.” Sure enough, the man had waited until I was done, and was now buying my coffee. Rather than the end the karmic cycle, this man was putting it upon to relinquish my cynicism and…smile more? Hug somebody? Roll my eyes one less time everyday?
Either way, I’ve really been making an effort, and I should probably report back to book club that it’s kind of working.
This is what you get.