On the way to her day-after-cataract-surgery eye doctor visit, Mother and I stopped by one of our favorite restaurants where the women who work there know what the regulars want before the regulars do. “You take care of yourself, Miss Ada,” Mindy Sue told my mother as we checked out. “Don’t be bending over or anything. There wasn’t anybody around to stay with my mama when she had her cataract surgery, so to remind herself about not bending over, she cut off a broom handle and put it down her pants leg.”
The eye doctor is an old friend of mine. Our children played together. We vacationed together. We walked into each other’s house without knocking. Then the kid started to different schools, and parenting commitments caused us to drift apart.
I had dread in my bones this morning. I noticed it, sure enough, but decided I was probably just tiredness and a reluctance to get out again. “Y’all come on back here,” his assistant said as she ushered us from the waiting room, motioning us to sit in a couple of waiting chairs in the hall outside the exam rooms. Two. There were only two chairs. Two chairs and two women – Mother and me. That’s it. Two.
“Hey Mike,” I said cheerily when he appeared, and I was relieved to be sincerely glad to see him. “See,” I hissed to the dread, “it’s not so bad.”
Apparently the happy reunion was a party for one. He said nothing. Didn’t even look at me. Didn’t even look in my direction. Didn’t even look at my chair leg. Just told Mother how glad he was to see her, took her arm, helped her into the exam room, never once acknowledging in any way imaginable that I even existed.
I took a seat in the small exam room, cramped with three people inside. He proceeded to talk to Mother, continuing to ignore me as much as he ignored the socks on his feet. As much as he ignored the hairs on his face. As much as he ignored the box of tissues sitting on the counter.
It’s been a while since I felt so overlooked, so thoroughly invisible, so totally and absolutely dismissed.
“Hello Mike, I’m Jeanne,” I eventually said, giving him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he didn’t recognize me. It has been an age since we saw each other. “I know who you are,” he said without even turning his head in my direction.
“Oh well, then,” I said, “so you really were being rude.”
Now this is tricky because my mother is so nice – NICE, I tell you – and she gets very upset when there’s friction and disharmony.
“No,” he said. “I was just focusing on your mother. I didn’t want her to stumble or fall. She had eye surgery yesterday, and one eye is bandaged and when you’re used to having two eyes, you might fall.” Like I didn’t realize she had cataract surgery yesterday, like I couldn’t be trusted to help steady her.
To keep from upsetting Mother, I declined to say anything further and swatted away the insult I felt. He continued his examination of Mother’s recently de-cataracted right eye. Wanting to smooth things over, Mother said, “Well, I thought you probably didn’t recognize Jeanne. Thought maybe you haven’t seen her with red hair.”
“That’s right,” he said. “I didn’t recognize her. It’s been a while since I’ve seen her.”
I remained silent, not wanting to embarrass Mother, not wanting to upset Mother, not wanting to be a bad girl. He talked with Mother about his wife and his grandchildren. When he pointed to the grandchildren’s photos, I didn’t even turn my head for a peek, a small rebellion. “Tell your wife hello for me,” I said as we made ready to leave. “Perhaps she will be glad to hear from me.”
“I guess I hurt your feelings,” he said flatly while making notes in Mother’s chart. “Didn’t mean to,” he added, still making notes.
“You did hurt my feelings,” I told him, desperately wanting to add “but more than that, you made me angry and you lied and you trivialized me and you were rude and you gave me as much attention as you did the chair I was sitting on and for all you know, I was a customer. And which is it anyway: you wanted to help Mother (because I am apparently incapable of helping her) or you didn’t recognize me?” . . . but I didn’t, of course, because Mother was looking anxious.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she told me in the car at the bank’s drive-thru window on our way home.
“I know,” I said, sounding calmer than I felt. Then, speaking in a voice that amazed me with his calm, quiet, matter-of-fact tone I said, “This man was rude. He was wrong. He was obnoxious. Mother, I love you, but I can’t join forces with him and erase myself. Far too many times in my life, I’ve been dismissed, cast aside . . . and I realized today, that I’ve dismissed myself as much as anybody else has dismissed me. Yes, I still want you to be proud of me, to love me, but I will no longer stand for being treated like an object. Not ever again. There’s plenty I long to tell him, but the fact that I called him on it – no matter how small my words – is enough. Instead of overlooking his dismissal, instead of excusing it or being quiet or staying calm or refusing to wrestle with pigs or taking the high road or imaging how busy he was or how much he had on his mind, or minding my words, or not saying something for fear of regretting it later, I spoke up. The tiniest bit, but I spoke up and in my own respectful-of-my-Mother way stood up for myself, and I can feel a deep unearthing, a subtle shift. Is it enough to salve over all the other times I’ve been treated by myself and others like lint on the back of a jacket? No, but it’s a start.”
Annie worked the bank window today, and as I turned to see what was taking her so long to cash one little check, she pulled the microphone down to her lips and asked, “How would you like this – are 10s and 20s okay?”
“Yes, that’s fine,” I said. “Sorry for the delay. I’m a bit upset.”
“I could tell,” she said. “That’s why I gave you some time.”
Later there was Skype call with Sally and Karen. There were text message conversations with Julie and Angela. There were brief exchanges on Twitter and Facebook. There was a hot stone massage and reflexology with Marcia, and after supper, an impromptu visit with three girlfriends from high school.
Women holding space for other women, witnessing the brilliance of other women. Women reclaiming their own glorious genius. This is what we do, this is what we need, this is what 365 Altars is all about . . . this and more. Much more.
Holding space and applauding loudly from a distance. Love it when the shifts come, when the voice is found. Love it.
Thank you, Sugar. Feels so junior high schoolish on the one hand, so big girlish on the other. I feel your support, hear your applause, and I wrap them both around me.
Oh, Jeanne, this is SO my life. As I read your words my mind’s eye was revisiting so many times when I was in the room, but nobody noticed. Especially loved the phrase, “refusing to wrestle with pigs”. That’s a new one for me, but one I plan to use in the future. Great writing. Thanks for sharing.
Oh, Lynn, what say we refuse to be put in a corner any more . . . which is, of course, a way of refusing to wrestle with the pigs;)
We are so good at holding space for each other. When in a good place ~ we can even hold space for those who leave us feeling invisible, unimportant, ignored and as wanted as lint on the back of a jacket.
We can do this because we see moments like you’ve described, and people like Michael, as good practice. We spend oh so much time being tested, don’t we? And as we retreat within, as we gently unfold and uncover every insecurity, wound and hurt that we’ve accumulated over time – every belief, thought and mantra that does not serve us at all … we create more space for the Self to expand; the real one, who we really are.
And as we, and our bones, settle more and more comfortably into the knowing ~ the Universe will send us something, or someone, to test that knowing. Is all we’ve decided to accept as true really True, in the depths of our bones kind of True? Or is it another story we’ve told ourselves – a more positive spin on a previously held belief we decided to release because it no longer served us.
And our mission, when these tests present themselves, is to respond from a place of our new, and True, knowing — or to sink back into the wounds, the pain, the insecurity and the hurt that is often more deeply embedded than we allow ourselves to accept.
In your mind, imagine the encounter again – and this time, imagine YOU as someone who truly knows herself to be Radiantly Visible, Vastly Important, Welcomed and Valued Beyond Measure.
How does the visit play out from there? See it through, hear it through, feel it through. And then – lock THAT memory in your heart as it finds its way to your bones.
Because you ARE Radiantly Visible, Vastly Important, Welcomed and Valued Beyond Measure. And in that moment, you simply forgot.
Thank you, Sugar, for such a thoughtful, true comment. Our bones do know, don’t they?
I could feel the hurt you felt reading this. I’m proud of you for honoring yourself by standing up for yourself. I’m also happy to say you’ve inspired me to speak up a bit more. I tend to be much meeker in person than in the land of binary.
“much meeker in person than in the land of binary” – i can relate to that, sugar. i was thinking earlier today about how so many people are different when they have a big ole’ heavy car wrapped around them. me, i long to be the jeanne i am wherever i am. doesn’t that sound marvelous? to be who we are wherever we are.
I can not tell you how much this just hit home with me.
((((jeanne))) beautiful and VISIBLE and no ones door mat!
thank you, sugar AND i’m so sorry it registers with you. xoxo
Women for women. This is what we do. I am so glad you made it clear you were aware of his rudeness. Silencing, dismissal, ignoring…all tactics used to keep us small. No more.
yes, exactly. i felt so held, so supported, so strengthened by you and the other women surrounding me yesterday. it’s important we do that for each other, even if we don’t know that the other woman needs us. we will reflect other women’s brilliance, joining them in celebrating it or celebrating it for them until they can celebrate themselves. it’s what we do.
I second Julie’s emotion :). No more. xo