Lyn Hacker: A reminder that ‘a little touch of camaraderie’ can make a big difference

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I was reading on a friend’s Facebook page the other day about a situation she ran into at a big box store, where she was talking on her cell phone while walking and shopping. She noticed, and moved out of the way, of an elderly lady who was passing, and then continued on, talking and shopping at the same time. The elderly lady came back at her, yelling at her loudly in the store about being on her phone, how rude it was, etc., etc. The elderly woman wouldn’t let it ride either. She wound up at a checkout line close to my friend, and verbally assaulted her again from there, and then, sadly, it was discovered the same lady was actually parked close to my friend in the parking lot, and so my friend had to endure a third and final encounter.

I am an elderly person also. I don’t realize how elderly I am often enough, but still I don’t like to engage in verbal battles with other elderly people, because you know, we can be mean! If we’ve gotten mad, if we’ve chosen to do battle, we’re committed to the fight. We can leave long-lasting scars and draw a big crowd. We’ve got decades of anger to draw on, and a lot of times we don’t “fight fair.”

Now my father told me a long time ago that there was no such thing as a fair fight. Elderly people know that. “You fight to win,” he said. “If it’s not worth winning, it’s not worth fighting.” I’ve mostly been the person who prefers not to fight, but will most certainly stand my ground if backed into a corner or if the cause is noble enough – which is most of us, really. That being said, I’m not a good one to rumble with. There’s Dad on the one hand, and on the other one, I’m elderly too. However mostly, when accosted in such a way in public, I’ve taught myself to apologize and split, quickly, regardless of the fault and my feelings. Something like, “I’m so very sorry, let me get out of your way,” and then leave. To me, this is the very definition of my father’s “battle that is not worth fighting.” You don’t know what devils the other is dealing with. You don’t know if they’re armed. It’s just too tiring to make a deal out of every little thing. I figure the other is just having a bad day, and I’ve managed to unintentionally walk on their side of the sidewalk. My bad, as the kids say.

Photo by Elliott Schwartz

I have and will fight when I’m not well – that’s when my filters disappear. There have been days, especially dealing with this Bells Palsy, which I’ve had over a year now, that I’ve literally felt like I’m just waiting, with baited breath, for some poor soul to cross my path the wrong way. If I’m having a bad day, and do have to go shopping, God help the poor people who get in front of me! I try to hold it in check, but I’m an in-and-out girl. I know what I want, I know where it is, and I’m painfully aware how much time it’s taking me to get from point A to point B, obligate purchases in tow. In my own defense, I try to choose times that are not busy and crowded. But a bull in a china shop has little on me when I have to shop. I’m blessed to realize when I’m having one of those days, so I don’t leave the house unless I absolutely have to. And then I pray that old prayer, Lord keep your arm around my shoulders, and your hand over my mouth!

I don’t think anybody likes backing down when they feel they’ve been unfairly assaulted, but not everything has to be a battle. I’m big and I’m strong, and if some obviously less powerful person feels the need to take a piece out of me, I can take it. I usually am the bigger person physically, and I can be the bigger person in other ways that might matter more. At other times, though, I am so tired from this Bell’s, so disfigured and aware of it, so worried to death over minutia and distracted, I can get very short-tempered.

I have pet peeves, and one of them is when someone is talking on their phone and simply stops in the middle of a store aisle, oblivious to the world around them. Often they have their cart, which they park to their side, so between them and their cart, they’re taking up the entire aisle. If this person stops right in front of me, talking up a storm and doesn’t seem to even be aware that I am there, I’ll give them a moment to realize they’re blocking the action, and if they don’t move out of the way, I will let them know, nicely. No character slurs involved. I’m thinking this was similar to the situation above, that started the tirade. We can all unwittingly be the proverbial straws that break our collective backs. Things pile up on each other in our lives. No telling what happened to this elderly woman prior to coming in the store.

Cell phones are really adding to our own isolation. They put us in our own little world, where our involvement in the real world becomes illusory. For instance with driving, which is already easy to get distracted doing. Me, I’m watching every single person or vehicle that gets within ten feet of my Jimmy to see if they’re texting. I need eye contact with the driver before I drive in front of them. I come to a 4-way stop, and I’m stopped completely and scrutinizing every other driver that’s there to see if they’re looking at their phones.

The other day I actually came upon a bicyclist on Newtown Pike talking into a cell phone! Talk about a death wish! But then I was a biker for many years in college, so it was little surprise to me –I know how crazy they can be. I come up behind bikers all the time on these country roads, and we’re going up and down hills and around snaky curves, and they start waving me on! They’re gesturing to me, come on, come on, and I’m thinking, I am not going around you until I can SEE what’s around you! With my own eyes! They don’t know the road like I do!

Some of these drivers out here be crazy, and there’s loose cows and horses and other critters… These bikers should be looking ahead instead of back at me. Such conversations are never actually spoken, of course, so as I ignore their non-verbal instructions, their gestures become more and more frantic. Maybe some of the Sunday cycling bunch will read this and realize how useless it is for them to take it upon themselves to direct me in traffic.

Back in the day, we used to call this social accosting of each other going “postal,” termed after some unfortunate instances where some postal workers opened fire on their co-workers. It’s so symptomatic of the build up of tensions in this modern world, a lot of people opine for the “good old days” because of it. I’m not so sure the “good old days” were that much better. There are a lot of good things about our world. First of all, children are no longer bred to be part of the work force of a family, at least not legally in this country. It was that way back in the good old days, when life on the farm required many hands to do the job. Back in the 40’s, some desperate parents actually sold their children to survive.

Women have much greater rights now – well, they actually have rights, which my grandmother didn’t have. It’s sad to me that her story is not being taught in schools, and so many young girls are growing up not realizing they are barely just one generation away from not having any of the fundamental rights that all Americans are privileged to have, like the right to vote, the right to own property, the right to decide your own marital status, the right to free speech and other such things. I’m delighted that my nieces have grown up never having had the obstacles in front of them that I had, where certain careers were frowned upon and others encouraged in deference to our gender. There is so much opportunity available for girls now, and so it’s doubly sad to still see the emphasis on sexuality even in young children.

This has always been, of course, but social media is taking it to the nth level with sexting, where images published on line can remain available to just about anybody, for an uncomfortably long time. Lots of lives adversely affected for a few moments of fun. Ah, those phones…

Periodically I will get started early and go into town and do my shopping and sometimes, I find myself actually chatting with other shoppers I’ve never met before, and will probably never meet again. We may chat about different kinds of dog food, or whether that movie was good or not, or if we think organic milk is better than regular milk (and worth the extra cost). We will stand in the middle of the aisle (not blocking anybody), chatting and laughing like old friends over a shared experience or a common need or occurrence in our daily lives. I really like those times, because daily life can be boring and lonely, otherwise.

Oftentimes, without the stress of the onrush of phone-mesmerized shoppers around, and while having one those spontaneous conversations, I discover some aches and pains have subsided leaving me to ponder if some of our health problems could be solved with good old conversation and camaraderie. But the art of conversation is fading. My people were wonderful at story-telling, but folks are less interested in the stories now, not unless they’re big productions or in anime.

There is the golden rule that says you should treat others as you want to be treated, and then there is that other lovely rule, which can still apply, to turn the other cheek.

But that requires you put down the phone and acknowledge somebody’s existence. There is a choice to let it go. Judge it against the grand order of things, and maybe just one little corner of the world will be a better place. Speaking of which, I drove through Starbucks on Independence Day and had the nicest chat with a young fellow during the transaction. We were different ages, different sexes and different races, and he had one of the greatest smiles I’ve ever seen. He engaged me in conversation, which I loved because it’s getting rare when someone young actually wants to talk to an old gruff like me. He was so excited, talking about his plans for Independence Day, and I found his excitement very entertaining – he was like a big kid.

After we wished each other a Happy Fourth, I drove away thinking, now this is the America I know and love. Just that little touch of camaraderie reminded me how much our independence is dependent on each other.

Lyn Hacker is a Lexington native raised by Appalachian parents to be not only educated but proficient in the living arts – working very hard, playing music, growing gardens, orchard management and beekeeping. The UK graduate has been a newspaper staff writer and production manager, a photography lab manager, a Thoroughbred statistics manager, a Bluegrass singer and songwriter, a registered respiratory therapist, a farmer, a Standardbred horsewoman, and a beekeeper. She lives on a farm in Sadieville.

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One Comment

  1. Lyn Hacker says:

    I would like to take this opportunity to thank Susan Berkowitz Swartz and her husband Elliott for the kind use of their photograph which illustrates their organization All Peoples Day. This is an all-inclusive artistic festival that Ms. Swartz has been putting on since 1973 that seeks to emphasize our universal qualities and the “differences that make us individuals.” Her goal is for the “ideals of All People’s Day® to spread through a national holiday.” If you would like to learn more about her organization or become involved with her and her mission, please visit their website allpeoplesday.com. Thanks, Lyn

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