Let’s play a game. That time when…

Play a Game Header

It used to be my job to get the office snacks. At first it was fun to escape from the office to wander the aisles deciding on a new breakroom treat. During our busy times I tried out boxed snack delivery services. They all offered surprise items every week, but weren’t really customizable.

They started to complain about the box choices, so that stopped. They didn’t like the places I ordered in lunch from. I threw out the homemade cupcakes and the bakery bought cinnamon rolls. They clamored for healthier food, but the oranges, carrots, and apples rotted. One morning I stopped for pastries for the group. I ate most of them, slowly, throughout the day sitting in the office by myself.

They made increasingly specific snack requests. They wouldn’t eat anything else. Even with a cabinet full of recently purchased snack items, employees would buy their own and demand reimbursement. There wasn’t any set schedule so each week day by day I might have to go to the store, or hear a complaint, or spoil a demand.

By this time I was down to buying four items. Or sometimes five. It required driving to two or three stores. Often, I’d run through grabbing my own uninspired groceries at the same time. For the first time ever I didn’t have the time to cook.

The feelings of good intentions I’d first experienced turned to a set dislike of every one of those snack foods. Each week my jaw clenched into a nine to five lock against this work responsibility. I must have been the most sour-faced person to come across.

That’s why I happened to be at a national chain superstore on a weekday afternoon buying three small food items. A man, one person in front of me, putting his packed bags into the cart, started to speak loudly and angrily to the cashier.

“You’re so rude. Not saying one word to me,” he said on and on without once looking at the cashier. He continued as he walked away, until the sliding doors cut off his rant.

I and the person just in front looked around baffled. We looked at him and at each other and we looked at the cashier. The preceding moment had been quiet and the two of us were dumbfounded into being still and silent.

The cashier was deaf or hearing impaired. I’ve no idea the level of her hearing loss, but it was obvious. She didn’t say a word to anyone, using a combination of common signs like finger tips to lips for “thank you” and gestures like pointing to the total on a large display.

Maybe the man had been having an awful day. Any number of miserable life, work, family, friend events might have contributed to his undeserved expression of anger. Maybe he was always a jerk. Maybe he thought he was better than everyone else and didn’t need to be aware of others. Regardless of the reasons he had the ability to affect other people and he did so.

When I finished purchasing the office snacks, smiling widely throughout the short interaction, I stepped outside to look for the man. It was a large parking lot and just maybe he was still there, returning the cart or just driving off. A moving vehicle wasn’t going to stop me from making him walk back inside and apologize. He wasn’t anywhere in sight.

I walked to my car, angry again or maybe still. I wanted to scream until my throat hurt and my voice cracked with use. Scream at the people at work. Scream at having to drive so many miles and all the people who gave in to their road rage. I was so tired of people and all their conceit. I wanted to become a hermit, move to the country. I didn’t want cause to be angry anymore.

So I chose not to be that day.

I had recently read Mockingjay. It was oddly addicting — the appropriately simple language, the first person narration, and having to learn when not to trust Katniss’ impressions. Mostly, I found myself rereading the epilogue’s last sentences: “That’s when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I’ve seen someone do. It’s like a game.”

Epilogues are usually my least favorite endings. I don’t enjoy getting whipped from the last point in their life to this future point and whipped away again as the book, once again, ends. That day in the parking lot, instead of getting angrier over every instance of inflicted pain or injustice or thoughtlessness I decided to play a different game. I started to count up all the kind deeds I’d heard of or witnessed.

When a stranger walking by complimented my brother’s boots and it happened to be his birthday.

My brother is disabled. I could write this entire post without ever mentioning it and maybe it would have a greater impact if I didn’t. Except, that day, in the parking lot, it didn’t take me long to travel this connecting link. It was, even with my general foul mood, part of what motivated me to seek out that man.

My brother is one of my most devoted readers. I wouldn’t purposely do anything to upset him. That doesn’t make me the best sister or even a good sister. We fight. I let my own moods affect my temper and say the wrong thing. I don’t call him, visit, email, video chat, or write letters as often as I should.

I was at HEB choosing toothpaste the first time he called to invite me over for a dinner of salmon and baked macaroni and cheese. I cannot tell you why I was dropping him home some evening when neither of us had eaten dinner, but I do know that he invited me in for leftover honey-glazed chicken and his favorite lemon rice. Those dinners were meaningful.

Without being asked a friend helped a blind man cross the street because he didn’t know where the intersection was.

My family has been featured here many times, but I’ve never mentioned this extra fact. I grew up to be very protective of my family. Protective of my brother’s feelings. Protective against ignorant ideas on what it means to have a disabled relative. Or well-meant educated opinions on his particular birth defect.

I learned to put a silent ‘stop’ on those conversations because I disliked the attention a disability attracts. As a kid seeing every head turn to stare when we walked into a grocery store made me withdraw further into my shyness. I didn’t want the stares and stood as far away from my family as possible.

I don’t mention it because it’s hard to discuss. All the grey lives in this discussion. In The Polysyllabic Spree Nick Hornby explains why he doesn’t read books about autism (his son is autistic, my brother is not), “So most books on the subject tend to make me feel alienated, resentful, cynical, or simply baffled.” It’s the most concisely written, honest, relatable sentence I’ve yet read.

People don’t know. They are uncomfortable. They ask lots of questions. Too often people’s opinion of me changes when they find out. Once a guy I’d been seeing included my brother in the reasons he didn’t want to be in a relationship with me. I don’t like answering the questions.

It also doesn’t need to be mentioned. My brother is more than a medical challenge, a morality gauge, a social cause, or a wheelchair.

A friend sent pizzas to her local fire station because they are the fire department.

Driving in my car quite a while ago the game wouldn’t be played. I was leaving my brother’s apartment. Over the previous four hours I had felt exactly one positive thought — and it was a dark humor that only people who cry at a funeral are likely to understand. I was not angry at my brother, though I did feel like an annoying bossy little sister. However, the world — in all its entirety — should have felt some twinge of ear burning.

Throughout our lives I watched my parents fight without rest for my brother’s ability to navigate this world. It’s a fight they taught me to emulate when needed. It’s a fight I avoid unless it is unavoidably required of me.

Fighting so much for one person…in Mockingjay Katniss cruelly votes in favor of a final Hunger Games with all the Capitol residents. I get why.

I want to believe that I, like Peeta, Annie and Beetee, would vote no. That’s the person I want to be. Catch me on the right day and I’d vote yes. I might despise myself for it, but one memory of the world’s cruelty and my hatred for it would bury any negative feelings for myself.

That time a stranger helped me with my bicycle’s flat tire.
That time I helped a stranger with their bicycle.

It’s easy to forget that you are not really alone in your car — windows are not solid walls — and all your screaming and steering wheel pounding is on view to the other drivers. You are out in public.

Feelings can spread. If you’ve ever seen another driver singing or dancing in the car next to you and felt happier, smiled, laughed you know what I’m talking about. I have the ability to affect other people. So that day, during that drive, I didn’t scream, but still not a single kind memory came to mind.

To me, one of the interesting developments of Mockingjay is that Suzanne Collins doesn’t have the characters get better in a happily ever after vein. They move on, they adapt, they deal, they make the best of… They do what humans do — what humans have done as long as humanity existed probably. I don’t read a lot of YA fiction, so I don’t know if this is an unusual plot line for the genre.

Several characters return to District 12 — some because they’re required to, some just show up. The later group is the one I wonder about. Why do they go back? Is it because having lived through and seen the horrible things people can be they don’t want to deal with the world anymore? Shutting yourself up at home is easier.

But that doesn’t keep out the world. Or make your world a better place.

When neighbors helped me find my dog.

Near me are a few houses that seem to be slowly shutting out the world. I often pass by them on walks. There was always this one — a tall chain link fence surrounds the entirety with an electric gate on wheels and a mail slot contraption. Next door to it is a house that looks abandoned. The sides are yellowed shingles, a mattress leans at an angle in a corner window, and a dilapidated chicken coup is in the backyard.

A late model Kia Soul is often parked in the driveway. That car made me start wondering if maybe the fenced off house owns the abandoned house – keeping it to stop anyone from living there and block the house and yard from passersby.

Across the street from these two houses is an L-shaped duplex in grey stone and grey siding. There’s a long grey patio ramp set on grey concrete blocks leading to the front door of side A. Fake flowers fading into grey stick up out of pots. The owners haven’t fixed up the yard, or the loose boards in the patio ramp, but they did add a tall chain link fence surrounding their portion.

Down the street from the duplex is a house in cream and green. I used to often see an elderly woman tending rose bushes in the yard. Then a high slated fence, painted in green went up. They added signs telling people to keep out – though I can’t think of why anyone would stop there. The latest sign warns of their security cameras.

I don’t want to become like those people. Shutting out the world they are angry at. Afraid of?

The neighbor’s house whose front and side yard is filled with flowers — poppies, roses, iris — so filled that they spill out on to the sidewalk and grow in the cracks of the gutter.

I thought a lot about what the point of this post was supposed to be. It’s about an event that happened a long time ago, but always too soon to write about. It’s not really about food. Other than the office snacks. It’s sort of about how I went from being a person who was happy to spend my money and lunch break buying chocolate for colleagues to a person who felt very inclined to spit into a bag of snacks.

It’s kind of about growing up and a part of my life I rarely discuss. It is not just about society’s treatment of the disabled. There’s a well-known quote, in one wording or another, that a people should be judged by how they treat the weakest members. I’m not convinced. You are not a better person for providing food for the homeless, but behaving like a jerk to the receptionist answering your phone call. If you can be nice to both, I’ll judge you as kind.

It should be about hope. I do still play the game. Hope can, to me, be too vague to believe in. On the days when the game can’t be played…on the days when the game needs to be played it isn’t hope I’m looking for.

Hope becomes solid at odd moments. Not long ago a young kid — about 7 or 8 — walked alongside and held open the door for my brother. Earlier the kid had been scared, sad, crying, but trying to be brave. If there was a good reason for anyone to ignore the world I’d give it to that kid. No one told the kid to do this and it is unlikely the kid’s parents had ever encouraged this consideration. I added that moment to my list of kind acts even though I wasn’t playing the game right then.

I’m not sure I have hope for humanity as a whole. But, maybe I can hope that all the little kind acts I see without recognizing — that happen all the time are enough to keep us from slipping too far.

Recently, I read about Chipotle’s Cultivating Thoughts campaign. In it Neil Gaiman writes “I have started to think of humanity as a family: a family that quarrels, but which must, when things get hard, put aside old arguments and divisions, and care for each other.” The campaign and the writing makes me hopeful. We choose our actions — marketing, professional, cultural…

There isn’t a guidebook that teaches how to never upset anyone. Political correctness has never appeared to me as a kinder expression. A tone of voice can be more hurtful than a word. A passive attack can hurt worse than a direct attack. People have different opinions — which is good — what offends someone makes someone else laugh. I would not willingly give up my dark and sarcastic sense of humor for anyone.

It is not about never making a mistake. Or never getting to be selfish.

It’s about thinking of strangers. That’s a big one. It’s easy to think about someone close to you. It is really, really hard to think about the person you don’t know. Taking a step outside of your day to help that stranger without knowing how they’ll take it or if they’ll even think you kind requires effort and sometimes humility.

It’s about being aware.

It’s about being kind.

When a bus driver let a passenger stay on even though he didn’t have enough change and then another passenger paid the difference.

Dragons Need Cake: and other writing scraps | iTunes | LuLu | Nook | Kobo

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