by Rick Hamlin
Have you ever been snubbed?
Has anyone ever looked right through you?
Has anyone walked the other way at the sight of you?
It’s really painful. It can make you very angry. It can make you as angry as the person who is angry at you. But the only way you can make sure they don’t succeed at whatever they intend to pass on to you is to not get angry back. Don’t be wrong with wrong people. Don’t give them the pleasure. Don’t let them rob you of your joy.
We have this neighbor who will not talk to us. She feels that she was wronged by one of us and her response is to cut us dead. She doesn’t speak when spoken to. She doesn’t wave back. She walks to the other side of the street if she has enough warning.
Whether she was truly wronged or not is not worth discussing and wouldn’t be terribly interesting if it were explained. At this point I can’t explain it to myself but the sight of me or my wife pains her and the only way she can express it is by hoping to give some of that pain right back.
I find this hard. I want to be liked. I assume everybody will like me. She doesn’t like me. I can accept that she’s suffering. If she’d like to talk about it, I’d be glad to talk about it, but that doesn’t seem to be an option. She’d rather pretend that I am not here.
As a point of emotional growth, I find this helpful enough. It’s given me some insight into the pain of racism. To be a victim of prejudice can mean having someone look right through you, to not even acknowledge that you’re there. To be totally ignored is to not be seen as another member of the human race.
I don’t go out of my way to be ignored, but the other day when I ran into her in the park on my morning jog I couldn’t swerve away. “Be pleasant. Treat her like you would anyone else,” I told myself.
“Good morning,” I said.
She turned the other way.
Just so you know that I’m hardly the nicest person on earth I will let you know that my next gesture was going to be a rude one. My arm rose slowly to express it, my hand was ready. Then I reminded myself, if I did that, who would have won? She or me? My hand swept up near my head. The rude gesture turned into a sort of wave in my hair. Something for a bird to decipher or an umpire.
“Pray for your enemies” was Jesus’ injunction. That means not giving them back what they mean to give us. No eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth. No rudeness for rudeness, no wrong for wrong.
Anger with angry people only mushrooms into more anger. I didn’t get angry, but I did come home and laugh. I hope my “Good morning” didn’t come out sounding hostile. It probably had some fear in it. My gesture on the other hand was really dorky. Too bad she was looking away. We might have both laughed.
Next time maybe, next time.
Rick Hamlin is the executive editor of Guideposts magazine, where he has worked for more than 25 years. His spiritual memoir, Finding God on the A Train, was a Book of the Month Club alternate selection and a selection of One Spirit Book Club. He lives with his family in New York City.