Another little gift that being an LSerD (see sidebar) leaves you, is a desire to make peace, to take the high road, to avoid making waves, to do whatever we can to make sure other people are comfortable – most often, at the expense of our own comfort. We move over. I guess you could say we’re doormats. (I can’t keep saying “we,” because it may not manifest itself this way in other LSersD.)
But you know what? A couple of weeks ago I turned 60 years old and to be honest, and just to put it bluntly, I am tired of making peace at the expense of my well-being – my mental well-being, my emotional well-being. I am tired of protecting other people’s rights at the expense of my own, of taking the high road so that someone else won’t be forced to. I just don’t feel like it anymore.
Because honestly, what I think is behind it is not really a desire to make peace. Oh that’s what we’ve convinced ourselves it is. But I think what is really behind it – no, I know that what is really behind it is fear and shame; that same fear and shame we felt while we were becoming LSersD; the same fear and shame we felt when people insulted us, neglected us, went out of their way to make us feel small and insignificant. All we’ve done is brought that with us through life and rebranded it into “being peaceful.”
The pool in the picture is where I swim. In this picture there are people taking a class; however, an hour prior, when I came in, there was one woman in this pool and she was over in that class section. The only other person in the pool was me. I elected to swim my laps in the lane all the way to the right. Now any swimmer knows that each lap lane is actually two lanes. There’s a marking on the pool floor that divides each lane into two but there’s some etiquette that goes along with being a lap swimmer; most lap swimmers are aware of these rules. If you come in and you want to swim and a lane is being used and there’s an open lane, you take the open lane. If there are no lanes open, you signal or ask for permission to share a lane with someone. Once you’ve done that, you get in and do your thing.
Today, I’m swimming my laps. I’m about 15-18 minutes into my half-hour swim. A senior citizen comes in – I don’t call her just a woman because it’s significant that she’s a senior citizen. I’m going to go off a little bit here.
As I said, I just turned 60. Most people think I’m in my 40s. I look youngish, I’m relatively small, I’m a dance and fitness instructor and I’ve danced and been athletic all my life and so people tend to think I’m about 15 or 20 years younger than I actually am. Because of this, in my experience, senior citizens – and I hate to say it but especially senior black women, because I guess they see themselves as my grandmother – tend to think I’m going to move out of their way when they want something; tend to talk to me as though I’m living in their world. If I’m walking on the right and they want to walk on the right, it is expected that I will move. I have even had a lady at a different pool, while I was getting dressed, look at my locker and then look at me and say, “I’ll wait,” with hands folded and a passive-aggressive stance. I said, “You’ll wait?” Her response, “I’ll wait for you to collect your stuff so I can use that locker.” That time, I collected my stuff, moved out of her way and got dressed over on a bench. The second time she did the same thing (yes, because I enabled her the first time), I did not. I said, “Well, I’m going to be about ten minutes because I just got out of the water and I have to get ready for work. So if you want to wait, I’ll be all done getting dressed and getting my stuff together in about 10 to 15 minutes.” That didn’t go over well. She didn’t say anything but I still have the stab wounds from the looks she hurled at me from across the locker room that day and every time I saw her after that.
But anyway, back to today … I’m swimming, the only person swimming, in the lane all the way over to the right. I’m coming back down toward the shallow end and I see this woman come in, make eye contact with me, and then set her stuff down on the deck at the end of the lane. This means she’s going to swim in this lane but I’m thinking, “She’ll readjust because there are two empty lanes.” So I get to the end, I turn and swim back. When I turn again to go back down toward the shallow end, there she is sitting in the water next to the wall. So I get down there and I’m about to turn and she stops me and says, “Do you mind if I share this lane with you?” And so I look over at the other two lanes, I look around at the rest of the pool. I’m sure she understood my look because she says, “This is the lane that I like.” I looked around the pool again and then I looked at her and I chuckled and I said, “OK.” She said, “Thank you.” (At least she was polite.)
Then I did something I don’t think she expected me to do. I continued my laps in the lane where I started them. I finished my workout where I was. I moved over a couple of inches to the left side of the lane, as I would have done, as we all do when the lanes are full. But I noticed that she spent a lot of time sitting at the shallow end glaring at me while I swam because, you know, I didn’t do what was expected of me; I didn’t MOVE OVER to an empty lane. Did I want to? Sure. I would have loved to have an empty lane to myself; every swimmer wants an empty lane. But I was not going to do it because, you know what?
I am tired of being moved.
I am not a doormat. I do not have to jump out of the way so that other people can have what they want. My life is as valid as everyone else’s and my membership fee pays for the same rights and privileges as hers. And so I stood my watery ground and I felt good about it.
At some point in your life, you have to stick up for yourself. Now I’ve been working on this for a while, I would say the last 10-15 years. But every time I do this it’s a big deal because I was trained to be a doormat. I was trained to get out of the way. I was taught that I am not significant, other people are. The thing is, I don’t buy it anymore. I’m not doing it anymore. I will stand my ground, watery or on solid earth, from now on. I wasn’t mean. I wasn’t vindictive. I just stood my ground because
I am a human being and I will not be moved.