Once, as I waited for my husband, Bruce, outside the door of a Trader Joe’s in Manhattan, a blond-haired man walked up and stood uncomfortably close to me, definitely well within my personal space. He looked as if he’d stepped out of a Brooks Brothers catalogue—collar turned up, arms of a cashmere sweater wrapped around his shoulders, khaki pants, loafers, no socks. He lit up a cigarette, then turned so he was mere inches from my face. He smiled and blew smoke straight at me. I edged away, moving to the other side of the door.
Still smiling he asked, “Does my smoke bother you?”
I said, “That’s okay. I’ll just stand over here.”
Not skipping a beat, he responded, “Why don’t you go-----!” His suggestion was both violent and obscene. His words stunned me. And, I’ve seen Quentin Tarantino films, so takes a lot to stun me.
Just then, his girlfriend came out, shopping bags in hand. The couple walked off, arm in arm, happily chatting. My husband came out the door right after her. I told him what happened. I wanted to chase down Mr. Brooks Brothers and demand an explanation. My husband said, “Absolutely not. Just let it go.”
My husband was right. (Yes, those words are music to his ears.) Any guy who speaks like that to another person without provocation or really, even with provocation, is not a man that I should try to engage in a follow up chat. Chances are that conversation would go downhill fast.
So, I heeded Bruce’s advice. I did not chase Mr. Brooks Brothers. Instead, I took a deep breath and let it go, although not completely. The man had shocked me and the event remained fresh in my mind for months. Later that year when I recounted the story to a friend, she agreed with Bruce. She said, “If crazy person waves a stick at you, DO NOT grab the stick.” She went on to talk about various relationships in which she realized she needed to step back from an irrational or unreasonable person.
On the whole, letting it go, not engaging, is a good rule of thumb. And, while we’re at it, maybe the next step would be forgiving the offender. I don’t think anyone can completely let go of an offense unless that person forgives the offender. If we choose not to forgive, the memory and perhaps injury of the offense can still hold our hearts captive. Ann Lamott was spot on when she said, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.” Forgiving benefits the forgiver.
It is tempting to poke back when someone pokes you. However, I am going to try to avoid poking back. For example, the next time someone tosses a Shakespearian insult at me, as in, “You crusty botch of nature!”-- I will restrain myself from shouting, “Away, you starveling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s tongue, you bull’s pizzle, you stock-fish!”
Instead, I will take a deep breath and walk on by.