On a recent adventure, I found myself standing behind an aged couple in the airport security line. I try my best to not insert myself into other people’s conversations, as refrain does NOT come naturally to me. ..and although I did not involve myself in their “discussion”, I FELT like I was right smack dab in the middle of it. You see, i gathered that the woman had left something behind on the way to TSA. I assume she went to retrieve it, and was taking a while to make it back.
*I didn’t have to assume that last part. Her husband, who had entered into the screening line with BOTH of their boarding passes instead of waiting patiently for (or helping) her, made it abundantly clear. Over and over again.
Now, I know traveling can be stressful, and it can bring out the worst in people’s personalities. However, my instinct (and involuntary visceral reaction) tells me: that wasn’t the case here. ..buuuuuut this story is less about them & more about me.
As I struggled to keep my mouth shut, listening to this man continue to shamelessly berate his wife, I started to look inside to see why I felt so strongly reactive about it. He gave me many opportunities to do so, as he was RELENTLESS – pausing for periods of time & starting up on her again. Each time I heard him tell her she was “stupid”, “slow”, how it was “her fault”, or any of the numerous attacks he spewed, I didn’t just feel sorry for her (and him). I felt a deep sense of grief & fear, that I couldn’t escape. At one point, I had to physically turn my body away from them, close my eyes, and breathe deeply. It wasn’t until I heard her response that I realized WHY I felt this way.
When she started apologizing & defending, and continuing to engage & cower to her hostile/unreasonable “partner”, it hit me like a FULL flight of baggage. Familiar images and stories flooded my mind. I held back tears thinking about the men (and the occasional women) in my life who have spoken to the people they love in this way; Consistently using their words and actions to cause powerful & talented people to feel inferior, useless, undervalued, and unworthy. I swallowed those thoughts back down deep and focused on getting through the terminal, to my gate, before the flight finished boarding.
As the plane lifted off the runway, tears streamed down my face. I stopped pushing down the feelings & memories, and let it out. All of these experiences have shaped how I view myself, the world, other people, and at the root of it all: LOVE. I’ve watched people closest to me use words to build up and tear down, just as quickly as waves on the sand. I’ve learned that the choice is ours of how we use them & we also get to decide which beaches are dangerous, and choose which ones we want to frequent. I thought about how far I’ve come, and how far I still have to go.
I know I still struggle with my own value & validation, because I often seek for it in other people. I am sometimes that woman in the crowded line, letting a companion rip her apart in front of strangers ..AND STILL APOLOGIZING. I am sometimes her husband, picking every little thing apart in the people I love most, because I’m insecure in myself. On that plane, I took a moment to forgive myself for my mistakes, and forgive others for theirs. We do the best we can, until we know better. Then we get to choose to do better.
Keeping my traveling companion’s feelings in mind, I didn’t make a scene in the crowded line, but I do wish I had made it through security in time to have a private conversation with the two of them:
- I would have told her she is amazing & she doesn’t have to defend him when he’s wrong. She doesn’t have to respond to his venomous accusations, or give that any place in her heart or mind. I would tell her it’s ok to walk away from things that are not safe or healthy, even if you love them.
- I would ask him if he had a daughter, and if that’s how he wants someone to speak to & treat her. EVER. I’d ask him if he can forgive himself for whatever it is that brews up that hate inside him.
- I’d ask them both if this is what they want & I’d tell them to do what makes them happy. WHATEVER that is!
- I’d put one hand in hers, and the other on his shoulder. I’d bow my head for a moment of silence. With tears streaming down my face, I’d lift my head, look them in the eyes & say, “You ALWAYS have a choice, and you can change at ANY moment. It can be EXACTLY what you want it to be. You CAN experience pure joy, regardless of what you’ve done or what’s been done to you!”
I didn’t get to say ANY of that to them, but they did allow me to remember to say it to myself. Life is too short to be sucked into that ocean of toxicity! WE GET TO CHOOSE!
Today, I choose to let go of all of the beaches I’ve stopped visiting, and build my own sand castles wherever I can.