There’s a little town just north of where I live that considers itself the “center of the universe.” I’m not quite sure exactly how it acquired that moniker, but it’s been there for much longer than I’ve been around. It’s a little college town and even has that quaint small town feel about its center. Little “Mom and Pop” grocery stores and restaurants, warm and friendly people. In some ways, it reminds me of where we used to live in Asheville, North Carolina, except on a much smaller scale.
Of course, the smaller the town, the more likely things that are different will stand out.
In this little town, there is a man who rides a bicycle and always wears a little tutu. I’ve never met him, only seen him as he rides by. Never had the chance to talk with him. Never even had the chance to find out much about him.
At least, not until the other day.
I go to Goodwill…..a lot. The people who frequent Goodwill may only be paralleled in curiosity by those who frequent WalMart. People watching can be a spectacular event when going to either place. But beyond just the people watching amusement, there are stories to be heard if you listen….okay, if you eavesdrop.
The other day I was in the Goodwill in this small little town. I was minding my own business, looking through books and music. I was feeling pretty good as I had found a Carpenters record, a memory of my childhood and yet another memento of my mom.
As I stood at the register, waiting to pay, I couldn’t help but hear the conversation that was going on between the cashier and the woman who was in line right in front of me.
I’m not sure what had happened before I got there, but the woman in line in front of me seemed agitated at some of the clientele of Goodwill (kind of ironic since she was no peach herself, but I digress). She was asking why a certain person couldn’t be banned from the store. I looked around to see if I could figure out exactly who she was talking about, to no avail.
As she continued to talk to the cashier, the conversation turned towards this cross-dressing man. All at once, the woman just started saying all kinds of things about him. She started making a lot of judgmental statements about the man and then the cashier said, “Do you know his story?” The woman said, “He’s a weirdo, that’s what I know.” I wish that I could have seen a picture of my face at that moment, because I’m not usually shocked, but I think that statement caught me off guard.
The cashier went on to tell the woman that the man’s son had been killed and his son was gay. Now, I’m not sure whether one had anything to do with the other. From the way that the cashier said it, it certainly seemed like there was a connection, but that’s speculation. Anyway, this man’s attire was meant as a statement about his son. Not sure whether it was meant to draw attention to him so that he could tell his story or what, but again, there was some connection between one thing and the other.
All at once, my heart broke, for both the man who had lost his son and for the woman who was standing in line right in front of me.
Now, I have thoughts and opinions about things like sexuality and cross-dressing, but I also realize that we all have our experiences, our stories, and I usually try to listen to those rather than pass judgment. We have all been impacted and affected by the things that we go through, our losses, our failures, our defeats, our victories, our gains. While I might not agree with someone and their choices, it seems only fair to give their story a hearing.
As I walked out the store, I wondered to myself what would happen if that woman in front of me ever ran into the cross-dressing, bike-riding man. What would she say to him? Would she simply cast judgment? Would she ask him about his story?
The thing is, I could easily see myself doing the same thing as that woman. I am judgmental. I do jump to conclusions. I do look at a book and judge it by its cover rather than opening it up to see what’s really inside.
I’m quick and easy to do it to other people, but how angry do I get when someone does the very same thing to me. How frustrating it is when, before words have even escaped my mouth, someone already knows what they think about me.
Yes, it takes time to find out someone’s story, but maybe that’s what someone really needs, someone to just listen and hear them.
It seems like I learned a valuable lesson, and next time that I’m in the “center of the universe,” maybe I’ll look for a man on a bike wearing a tutu. If I run into him, maybe I’ll have the courage to ask him about his story. Maybe I’ll find out that there’s so much more beneath the surface than fits in the nice and neat little box that I’ve made for myself.