Disturbia

The other night we took our kids out on a date. Kai had a rough evening, we were all hungry, and the “neighborhood grill” seemed to suit our fancies.

As parents of young children, Jen and I try hard to cultivate in them the things we value; the things we’ve learned (usually the hard way). I pray my daughters will know their worth. That they will stand up for themselves and others and not put up with being treated as objects. That they realize who their mother is and wish most to be like her. That they will seek and crave kindness and gentleness in boys and will spot the punk-ass ones a mile away and steer clear. That they compare every guy they meet to me and the way they are treated by me. That they will be empowered to fly without the chains of oppression so many women get trapped in. I want my son to grow into a man that honors people, respects them, fights for justice and knows grace — both how to extend it and receive it. That he will have respect for the world around him. That he won’t make my same mistakes. I pray he treats girls with a protective, virtuous heart, and that he will be an example of goodness for the guys he’ll spend his time with. He and I have this ongoing debate over what the most important thing is in the universe. “People are.” I tell him, “Everything you can think of will always break down either to the benefit or to the distress of people. Otherwise, nothing in this universe matters.” It’s fun to see him propose alternatives to hold that #1 Most Important spot, and then watch his eyes both sink and gleam in the same instant as he answers my questions about that thing when he realizes I’m right.

Oh, so many things I hope and pray for my kids.

So, back to the other night at the restaurant… This is a difficult story to tell. I’m still disturbed by what happened, yet so torn about feeling the way I do. Trying to work it out… So here goes:

I needed to take a detour on the way to our table. I had some “stuff” to “work out” and needed a quiet place to “sit”. Shortly thereafter, this guy walks into the restroom and chooses the urinal directly in front of the stall occupied by myself. Now, time out: I don’t make a habit of paying much, if not any, attention to people when they are indisposed, just as I was. Ok, time in: This guy’s behavior was so odd to me I couldn’t help but rack my brain trying to figure out what was going on. Lifting his head up like he was inspecting the ceiling, he kept holding his non-occupied hand up to his nose as if to either cram something way in there, or dig deep to get something out. But there were sounds. Like sharp sniffing sounds, but more like a reverse sniff, like a burst of air going out. I was baffled. I didn’t want to believe any of the options I suggested to myself for what that could be. And a facet to the disturbing-ness of this whole experience is my own predisposed acceptance of what might be happening if only he looked the part. This whole post would be naught if he looked like someone who might be inclined to perform cowboy blows in public. I hate that I think that. I hate that I was so shocked by this guy’s behavior. A stocky, tall man, older, clean-shaven with steely, short hair and semi-modern squared-off glasses. On sheer stereotypical appearances, I’d say this guy was a mid-40-something, white, Republican banker/respectable white-collar business man. Yet there was this odd disconnect. At one point during his stay, he turned around and tried to look into my stall as if it had just occurred to him that someone just saw what he did. A few minutes and a handful of those bursting noises later, he left. There was no washing of hands. So anyway, about half a minute later I realized those sounds were from him spitting loogies on the wall. I could see them dripping down! Dripping off the plexiglass covered advertisements onto the urinal’s plumbing and then onto the urinal itself. Nasty, phlegm-infected, upper-middle-class slimy spit.

One of the things we try to teach our kids is respect. Respect for other people’s property and respect for their time and work. I know there are people in the world who couldn’t care less about anyone but themselves. I know that. Read some earlier stories here if you need to be assured that I know people can be horrible. I know there are people who go out of their way to cause trouble. But seeing it happen right in front of me in such blatant display by someone who under just about any other circumstance I might actually try (or think I need) to look up to just shook me at my core.

When I got back to the table with my family I saw this guy sitting at his table with his guests, smiling and ordering food and getting served by the very establishment he completely disrespected, as if he did nothing wrong; sitting next to his wife or girlfriend or co-worker or sister, who knows. The point is that he looked so… so not like someone who would hock loogies in a restaurant bathroom like some mid-pubescent teenage boy with a drunk step dad from a broken home all angry about nothin’ and confused as all hell about everything, or like some deep southern trailer dweller in a NASCAR muscle shirt and some green Crocs, wearing a “#3” ball cap sponsored by some trashy beer brand who couldn’t give a shit about the poor sap who has to clean the bathrooms cause that would actually be a better job than the one he’s got. And, yes, I did just write that. Because I’m so pissed at myself for thinking if he were like that, then I would have expected it and I could move on with my life boxing people up for the stereotypes they dress like, or sound like. Then I’d be able to keep my safe, clean distance from people and pretend that goodness is abundant and things will be so easy for my kids cause they’d just have to remember to avoid “people like that.”

This is where the music changes and you’re not sure if something good or bad is about to happen. If I had super-powers, one of which being telepathy, I so would have beamed my thoughts to this guy in migraine proportions. To what end though? For what reason? What good would it have done? Why was I so upset by that whole ordeal? What. Because there was no justice? Because someone will have to clean up after this pig? I think I’m so disturbed by this because I unwillingly let people shock me. Because I’m a salesman’s dream. Because I’ll almost always seek out the good in people and pretend the bad is not so bad, and if the good is not so good, I’ll pretend for that too, despite how clear the Bible is when I read these words:

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.*

You see, if I accept that… If I truly and whole-heartedly buy into the fact that us humans are pretty much doomed and our only chance at redemption is God’s grace, then my world changes. I grew up believing in God and Jesus; believing the Bible and “trying to be good” but this is different for me. This is the real life application that youth group night couldn’t touch. Accepting those words in context of this guy and my own prejudices and self-righteous judgements mean that I fall under those words too and have no place to think in my mind those thoughts I wrote just then. Then I am forced to extend grace to this guy and I have no other choice than to see him as human in need of that grace. And it forces me to consider that same grace extended to me. It forces me to put my own self under my own microscope. And it frees me up completely to be able to look my son in the eye with rectitude when I tell him “People are the most important things in the universe.”

* emphasis added.

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