Today I had one of those experiences that feels like someone kind of kicked me in the stomach. One of those things that can happen, even if you are just minding your own business, even if you have good intentions, even if you were keeping your side of the street clean. Nothing major. Just a drive-by quick hit. Totally unexpected. And I thought I was so grounded and mature and spiritual at this point, especially compared to where I was, that I was almost immune from things that could be explained away … someone was just having a bad day. Someone comes from a different culture. Someone misunderstood my intentions. No big deal.
But I couldn’t just shake it off.
What happened is this: I have an acquaintance through a volunteer job. She’s a teacher and I am a tutor that helps one of her students who struggles with reading.
Let me say first that I don’t know this woman well at all, and that we recently moved to a small town in the South, where we are somewhat unfamiliar with the way people think. The woman is a fantastic teacher and goes out of her way to encourage her students. She seems free-spirited … dances with the kids, twirls them around just for fun.
She has a daughter who is learning disabled who also attends the school. I’m pretty sure she’s single. Anyway, last time I was there, she showed me her cell phone with a distraught look. She said, “A child just broke my phone. For the first time in my life, I bought a $600 phone, and now it’s broken after just a week.” She wasn’t mad at the child. More at herself for having let him play with it. She added, “No good deed goes unpunished, right?”
She went on to say that she couldn’t afford to replace the phone, and that she needed new tires desperately. She had been saving for the tires, but now she didn’t know what she was going to do. She rolled her eyes and went back to teaching.
I relayed the story to my husband, and he said exactly what I had been thinking. Why not give her the money for the phone? We had recently kicked all of our own children off of their long-term phone plans and were going to “pay it forward” with the money we saved. My husband’s sister is a teacher, so he has a soft spot for them.
Long story short, I gave the teacher a card thanking her for all her hard work and enclosed a Visa card for $600. I explained that we were paying it forward, supported teacher’s causes, and wanted her to have it, for tires or a phone, or whatever. I put a smiley face after my signature. I told her she had to accept it. I was smiling.
She began to open it, and then covered her mouth as if she were going to cry, and I kind of half-hugged her and left so that she wouldn’t have to thank me or be embarrassed by the whole thing.
That was Friday.
I didn’t hear from her over the weekend, which was fine. We usually communicate very briefly by text. I went in this morning, and she was at the back of the classroom, looking through her phone. This is unusual for her. She is always at the door, welcoming students, laughing with parents, etc. I left with my student, trying not to disturb the class.
When I returned, she was in the same place and did not answer the classroom door when I knocked. Another child finally opened the door. The woman didn’t look up from her phone, even for a second. She knew I was there. She didn’t want to see or talk to me. It was clear. I didn’t try to get her attention as she was clearly not wanting to give it. I left, a little stunned.
Let me say that I have had a whole day to process this and have (mostly) overcome my hurt and even anger at the situation. But, given that no one has attacked me and no one is dying, and given the very real situations I have been in where terrible things were, in fact, happening, I am surprised at the unreasonable amount of hurt I feel.
It’s been a long time since I felt this hurt without the anesthetic of alcohol.
(Continued tomorrow as this post is getting way too long.)