A couple weeks ago, I went to pick my 13-year-old up from camp. Several parents arrived early, and we hung out on the front lawn waiting to get our kids. When I arrived, two moms were already engaged in conversation. They both looked to be about the same age, but they had decided to age differently from one another. The first had short-cropped gray hair, glasses, a nose ring, visible tattoos across her shoulders and wore Birkenstocks and a shapeless sun dress. (I couldn’t quite get a handle on her Look: was she going for hippie or Way Cool Tattooed Oldster?) The other had long wavy hair dyed dark blond, and straight, white teeth, was dressed in a women’s-cut white t-shirt and jeans, and wore thick mascara (somewhere between the amount I wear and the amount Tammy Faye Bakker wears). She was also trim in a way I associate with women who prefer to diet rather than jog or join a gym. It was clear that, in the short amount of time they’d known each other here on the lawn, these women had found several things to disagree about.
The gray-haired one complained about her daughter’s school district, and the blond one happened to work for that school district. Then the gray-haired one said they were moving away anyway, moving to Florida. The blond said that, wow, this was a hard age to make a kid move. The gray–haired one shrugged, then said they were moving because a friend of hers said they could come live with her for free, and who wouldn’t move somewhere if someone else was paying the bills? The blond blinked, then shared, as if to extract herself from this conversation, that a friend of her daughter’s had died while she was at camp but she, the mom, wasn’t going to tell her daughter right away.
It was at this point I realized I didn’t like either of these women. In fact, I actively disliked the one’s mooching and lack of sensitivity about how her daughter might not want to be dragged across the country so mom didn’t have to get a job, and the other’s use of a tragedy to gain conversational ground. I wanted both these women to stop talking and preferably to leave the premises immediately so I didn’t have to even look upon them.
This was an unusual moment for me because usually my dislike operates under the radar. It can be so subtle that I don’t even notice it. I don’t think it broke through here because these women were particularly egregious. Maybe the caffeine from the green tea I’d had that morning was wearing off. But more likely it’s that I’m on the lookout for evidence of chinks in my armor (and so more likely to find it). I have become too invested in the idea that I am a good person – or maybe just too invested in the idea that being a good person means one doesn’t have mean or petty thoughts occasionally.
If bravery is feeling scared and acting anyway, maybe goodness is having small-minded thoughts but still doing the right thing. I want to find out if this is so.