The only thing I took away from this summer's health care "debate" - or really, rather, the town hall meetings - is that the most important person in the United States is me. Not me, Molly Malone, but "me," the person at the center of the universe whoever "me" is, wherever "me" is, whatever "me" does and whatever "me" believes. "Me" is so important that it's fine for "me" to interrupt, shout down, berate and shut out the "other" who is trying to implore my help, change my opinion or simply give me his/her perspective on a situation. While I understand and trust that most town halls went off without much drama - maybe just some folks with signs, but damnit, this is America and I'm all about political expression, whether or not I agree with you - the stereotype of the town hall health care "debate" seems to be a good example of the lack of civility in this country, not for the good of the whole, but for the good of "me."
I ran into a couple examples of this yesterday. I'd just spent the weekend in Texas with my husband's family, feeling the milk of human kindness (I love them so much), only to be greeted with the vinegar of "me-ness."
Some background: I'm between 4 and 5 months pregnant with our first child. Because getting to this point in our family-building journey has been a physical and emotional torment I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, this pregnancy is not something we take lightly, nor is it something we're entirely comfortable advertising. But we've moved past the letting those who need to know, know, to being more public, if for no other reason than I've got an obvious bump, now. (It is also not my current intention to discuss it much on this blog, hereafter, but I can't promise it won't come up.)
Yesterday morning, Honey and I rose early to catch one of the first flights back east from DFW. I ate a small bowl of Raisin Bran and washed it down with some orange juice. I'd been eating that same breakfast for two or three days at his grandparents' house to no ill effect. Apparently, yesterday morning was different. As we drove to the airport, I knew something was amiss. As soon as I had a chance to find a ladies room, I hurled. I've been lucky in that I've not had much morning sickness, and what I have had hasn't haunted me much. Nonetheless, I felt nauseous for quite some time after.
Honey and I were supposed to sit one behind the other in middle seats on the flight back. They were the only seats left when we booked the flight last month. I was hoping, however, that maybe some kind person would swap the aisle with me so I could have easier access to the lav in case the bagel I was using to calm my post-puke nausea decided to take the same exit as the cereal. That kind person was not in my row. That guy said he really liked the aisle. That kind person was not in my husband's row. "Not for a middle-seat," he shook his head. I explained to both of them that I was experiencing morning sickness, but neither man seemed to care. Thanks, guys.
Luckily, nothing came back up, but I did have a few moments that were gag-worthy. But hey, they got theirs, so that's all that mattered. If I was the kind of person who stubbornly refused to swap seats on a crowded aircraft, I would say this was just my airplane karma. But I'm not. When flying alone, I've swapped seats so people can sit with their party, before (I hate seeing parties separated on airplanes), without giving a thought as to which seat in the row it is. I've even surrendered my coveted window-seat for a teenager who was a first-time flyer, moving to the middle, so that she could see outside more clearly for reassurance. That was actually a rewarding experience: She was terribly nervous. I held her hand during take off and talked her through the initial motions of the plane, and then did the same during landing. I felt very honored to have shared the moment with her, to have calmed her.
What irks me most is: I don't care whether I'm pregnant or not, and it was a request, so it was theirs to deny, but are these men so adamant about holding their aisle seat that they show no mercy to one who is sick? If I were recovering from food poisoning, would they be okay to let me vomit in their laps or shit my pants because they got theirs? (I'm sure the puke bags never get it all.) If I were elderly with a weak bladder, would they still insist on the aisle seat? And neither of them got up during the flight on their own. I had to pee a couple of times, so my guy moved. But the guy next to Honey never did. His row spent all three hours sitting. Why the hell do you want the aisle if you're not going to use it yourself? If you were just going to sit for 3 hours, could you not have sat in the middle seat? I wonder if these guys give up their seats on the bus and subway for the elderly or disabled, as signs request.
But if you can't rely upon the kindness of strangers, we can at least rely upon the decency of neighbors, right? Wrong!
For the last month, or so, there's been some silliness abrew in our neighborhood. Apparently, our neighborhood association board denied a couple of requests for some minor architectural changes that homeowners wanted to implement on their homes. I don't agree with the denials - I'm not a fan of homeowners associations to begin with - but we all signed the paperwork when we bought, so we knew that a board would have right of refusal. A handful of neighbors are rather tired of the tight restrictions and have petitioned the board to have a special meeting where they will likely address the rules for proposed rewrite. Sounds good to me.
Yesterday I came home to discover that another family, however, has been so aggravated that they've filed at least one lawsuit against the board, filing against specific board-members. Our neighbors. But they've cloaked it under: because the trusts that the association invests its dues in lost money in 2008, these board members were at fault. Seriously? You're going to sue because our investments lost money in 2008? Do you understand that investments go up and down and that every fucking person in 2008 lost money? And you're going to sue by name, as if these people don't have their own real problems to deal with? You're going to sue your neighbors, by name - not even the corporate entity - under the guise of Wall Street failure because, essentially, you're sour that the admittedly ridiculously strict guidelines deny you the privilege of building a sundeck?
There are many things we'd like to do to this house, and many which we may have to run in with the stupid board restrictions about. Some may be worth fighting for, but none are worth suing over. If the board was leaving bags of flaming dog shit on your porch, sue. If a segment of the neighborhood was prone to hurl epithets at you and the board did nothing to address it, sue. If the neighborhood was otherwise making your life a living hell, sue. But if you're just sour over the board denying you a cosmetic change to your well-built house that would still fetch a shit-load of money even in this market, suck it up. Your "me-ness" is hurting other people.
Of course, I can't claim to be above the "me." We live in a time, and in a country that prizes the individual over the community. I've been writing ad copy for car companies this summer and the track I tend to take is, this car is all about "you." We like thinking "me" is something special. I like thinking I'm something special. But I also hope I live with enough humility to concede when the good of the other is greater than my desire.