I was driving my kids home from school pick up today when I approached a crosswalk and saw a teenage girl waiting at the side of the road. She was standing quite far away from the curb, so it would have been easy to miss her or to think she was waiting for something else, but she was glancing back and forth, so I stopped. As soon as I did, she ran quickly across the road without glancing up, with her shoulders hunched and her head down, as if she were trying to go as quickly as she could. It seemed like she was taking up as little space as possible so I (and the cars behind me) would not be inconvenienced. She was timid, and I worried about her overall confidence in life. It’s tough for a teenage girl to feel secure, and valuable, and worth stopping for.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of this poem I heard (by Lily Myers), about the girl who notices in her family the tendency of her mother and herself to be shrinking, taking up as little space as possible, while her father and brother conversely expand to fill space. I thought about the crosswalk girl and said to her (in my mind, of course, because I had driven away), “Come on, girl! You are WORTH making me stop! You have as many rights as anyone else. Hold your head up high and stride home from school with confidence.” And I continued driving, proud of myself for my wise and empathetic insight.
Then I suddenly remembered another time, months ago, when I had to wait at the exact same crosswalk. That time, I hadn’t been on my way home with plenty of time, I was on my way TO something, and I was running late, as usual. Also, I had a baby with me who started to cry every time the car stopped. That time, it was two teenage girls walking together across the street. They had earphones in, and they were walking s.l.o.w.l.y. Just shuffling along, listening to their music, not making eye contact with the people in the cars that they must have known were waiting. And I, of course, thought about how ALL teenagers think the world revolves around them ALL the time, and cannot see the problems of other people if those problems do not directly affect them. I thought, “Come ON, girls! You do not OWN THE WORLD. Some of us are in a hurry!” When they had finally gotten across, I sped off without another thought of them. Until today.
As I reflected on those two situations and, more significantly, my separate reactions to them, it occurred to me that I was definitely the problem. Maybe the girl today was simply in a hurry while the ones on the previous occasion were not. Maybe snap judgments are rarely accurate and never helpful and I should be giving people the benefit of the doubt, even when I don’t even talk to them because I am busy driving away. If I expect to be kind and open when I meet people for the first time, maybe I should practice doing so all the time, even in my own car and my own head, when the person receiving my judgment will never know what I thought of her.
It’s definitely hard enough to be a teenager without someone jumping to conclusions about your character because of how quickly you cross the road. But really, it’s hard enough to be human without having snap judgments made about you.
So I’m done. No more snap judgments! Until someone else annoys me, of course.