I was riding by myself on the ferry to Nantucket, an island in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Massachusetts. It was actually the second time in one day I was sailing there. The morning got off without a hitch. John, the kids and my parents woke up in our hotel in Cape Cod near the ferry and had an early breakfast. To our delight, the sun shined brightly, which meant for easy sailing. John had the kids ready to go downstairs, and I was charged with checking the room to make sure we had everything.
This was our eighth summer on the Island, and there is no question it had become a home away from home. After we arrived and began to unpack, I realized I forgot to pack Savanna’s underwear. Ugh. But that was nothing. I then noticed my phone was barely charged, so I began to look for my briefcase, that contained the charger, in addition to my laptop and my husband John’s. All of a sudden it hit me. “John! John!” I yelled from across the house. Where is my briefcase? Did you put it in the car when we loaded up this morning?” My heart sank as soon as I saw his face. He didn’t even need to reply. In an instant, John was on the phone with the Hyannis hotel, where we had just stayed. Motioning me as if to say with his hands, “calm down,” John reassured me from across the room the hotel had my bag with all of its contents.
Although John was willing to go back, I knew I had to take the trip. It was completely my fault we left my briefcase, and I needed to take the trip, if only to detox from the stress of having left both of our computers behind. As I got off the ferry, fortunately, taxis were waiting and I hopped into the first. The driver was a large, even obese man. I directed the driver to the hotel we had stayed the night before. Thankfully, the bag and both computers were there, unharmed. I checked my watch and noted the next ferry back wasn’t due to depart for another hour. “Do you mind taking me to TJ Max?” I need to get new underwear for my daughter.” Not that the driver cared. This is how they came up with the expression, “TMI,” or “Too Much Information,” I thought to myself.
When it was finally time to drop me back at the ferry for my return trip, I handed the driver a huge tip. He had been so nice driving me all over Hyannis, and I figured, why not. And then, as I pulled back my wallet into my purse, the double take. “Oh, I didn’t notice your hands.” “That’s okay, you didn’t have to notice,” I attempted to respond pleasantly.
Inquisitive children aside, I am fascinated by the number of people that approach me and feel the need to comment on my physical difference. You know that “filter” people are supposed to have where they hold back from saying everything that cross their mind? For some reason, when certain people come across blatant difference in another, their filter is dissolved, and they feel like it must be completely fine to discuss that person’s difference. But is it?
For example, sometimes when people notice my hands an unexpected “oh,” comes out. But like in the case of the taxi driver, some people actually comment aloud. I really don’t mind though. It’s as if they are speaking more from a place of innocent surprise at seeing something totally new. It reminds me of the first time I saw the Jungfrau mountain range in Switzerland, and exclaimed aloud, “Oh, my!” But sometimes the behavior is not verbal. I have had, on multiple occasions, people physically jumping back away from me when I reach out to shake their hand for the first time. Admittedly, that is when the reaction stings.
Sometimes I wonder, if the tables were turned, how people would handle the unfiltered comments. For example, what if I had an unexpected, “Oh, I didn’t realize you were so fat!” to the cab driver. Of course, I would never do that. My filter is there, keeping me in check. So then, why is it that, when outside of their comfort range, certain people seem to be well, unfiltered? Something Megan Scanlon wrote in her recent Guest Flaunt resonated with me. “I think it has something to do with people’s need to make sense of the world. If something seems different or a little confusing, people can get anxious…..” Once, I read that we have literally thousands of ideas running through our brains in just one minute. However, those thoughts must all originate from a place of something familiar. Within that context, our filter works.
And for some, that filter even works when unexpectedly confronted by blatant difference. But not always, and not everyone. And I realized something. Just like the person that jumps back after shaking my hand, no matter how much I write and no matter how many people I reach, this unfiltered reaction will inevitably appear again and again. Years ago Walter Cronkite, the CBS new anchor, used to end his program with the saying, “And that’s the way it is….” That message resonates with me in this context. While I hope that my blog and the Guest Flaunts not only help those that are different embrace themselves, but also enlighten those that are not, I believe part of the journey is learning to expect an unfiltered world….and still being okay.
I could have reacted very poorly to the driver, making him feel badly for his outburst. Telling him he should know better. And believe me, if in a foul mood, I have in the past had some extreme reactions to some poorly filtered comments. But perhaps the best thing is to meet the unfiltered reaction with calm, even a sense of normalcy. With that approach the blatant difference that so surprised the observer may become just another one of the thousands of competing thoughts running through his or her mind, no more worthy of specific comment than anything else. And just maybe the next time that taxi driver picks up a fare like me, he’ll simply say, “Thanks for the tip.”