While out for my afternoon walking break, I saw a black cricket on its back along the sidewalk. Its legs were flailing around. It was unable to flip itself over. I walked on by. It's just a cricket. I only have a fifteen minute break. Then, not a moment later, it struck me: I suddenly I felt compelled to help. I interrupted my pace and came to a halt, turned around and walked back to the tiny black bug.
I'd just had a busy, nerve-racking couple of hours while working at the library. I had to escort a mother and her disabled child from the building because the child was screaming uncontrollably, running wild, throwing his toy truck at her as she attempted to get him to leave with her. If he were a small toddler the mother could have easily swept him up and physically removed him from the scene. But this boy is almost as big as his mother. I felt so sorry for both of them. The mother, the target of horrible glares and impatient words from strangers. The child, confused and frightened, societal expectations heaped upon him, but lacking the proper neural synapses to understand.
I wanted to wrap my arms around both of them and hug them. But I am not a preacher or a hippie cult leader or their friend. I am a librarian. I'm expected to control the building.
It's the absolute worst part of my job. I hate asking people to leave. But when their behavior is disruptive to other patrons, I must suck it up. I must be the authority figure. My inner-rebellious-anti-authority-teenager flips me the bird and tells me to go fuck myself, but she doesn't understand that sometimes someone has to take charge, even if they feel like they have no fucking clue what's the right thing to do.
The only way I know how to go about my daily life and still feel good about myself is to treat other people the way I want to be treated. What works for Jesus (and many other peace leaders) works for me. It's called the Golden Rule but it's an imperfect guide--everyone is different so how I want you to act might be different than how you want me to act, so if I treat you the way I want to be treated it might not be how you want to be treated--but it's the best guide I know.
As we walked toward the exit, I used the words I would want someone in authority to say to me if I were the mother or the child.
When the mother cried, "I'm sorry. He has a disability," I said, "Don't worry about it. I understand."
When the boy kept screaming, I looked into his eyes and lowered my voice so he had to quiet himself to hear me and said, "It's OK. We want you to come back to the library when you've calmed down. We love when you come to the library. We just need you to be calm. Please come back and see us again when you feel calm, OK?"
He didn't say "OK" or anything at all. He may or may not have understood a word I said to him. But he did stop screaming, and he did allow his mother to hold his hand and walk him out the door.
Even though inside I felt like I was gonna barf, I also felt an overwhelming sense of relief knowing I had tried to make the best out of a bad situation. It's all I can do. I rewarded my efforts with a walking break around the park behind the library.
The cricket might eventually get eaten by a bird or a frog. It could easily get stepped on by someone else's walking shoes. It's probably sick and dying and it'll perish in the sun after all. But I couldn't stand to walk by and watch the little black cricket struggle. I picked a stick off the ground and poked the little bugger gently until it was on its feet again. It didn't move. It's probably a goner. Or maybe I just stunned it. I schooched it onto the stick and laid it in the grass. As I wiped sweat from my brow, I found a leaf and propped it up like a bug-size patio umbrella. Feeling satisfied and full of anthropomorphic love, I returned to my walk.
When I got home from work I told Will and Katie the story, both stories, about the mother and the boy and about the cricket. Will recalled the time recently when he helped get a drowning beetle out of the fountain by his work. Some people get turned on by big burly men who like to go out and shoot big animals and bring home the bacon and defend their territory and all that macho, uber-manly stuff. And that's fine. Whatever floats your love boat. But I love my man who is the lifeguard to a drowning beetle.
We were all in the car on the way to our friend's birthday party. Another friend of ours rode with us, so he and Will were in the front, and I sat in the back seat with Katie. We'd stopped at a gas station to get supplies for the party. While paying for our goods I overheard Katie say something about wanting a piece of the beef jerky Will was buying, but I didn't pay too much attention since I think beef jerky is disgusting and I try not to think of my pure, sweet child loving the taste of dried cow muscles.
After a few miles back on the road, Will crumpled up the small, now empty, package of beef jerky and threw it on the floor. Katie complained, "Daddy! I wanted a bite of beef jerky!"
Will said he was sorry. That he hadn't heard her say she wanted some. He handed her some M&Ms to placate his Katie Bug and that was that. As far a Will was concerned, it was a parental win.
I, the great and wise one I too often think I am, decided to make a lesson out of it. I decided to use reverse psychology on our seven-year-old child, to try to get her to not even want the beef jerky.
"Don't worry about it. Beef jerky is disgusting!" I said.
Everyone else in the car in unison, loudly: "NO IT'S NOT!"
"Ugh. It's so weird how people like different things. I can't stand beef jerky and you think it's delicious," I said, looking over at Katie in her pink booster seat. She's not quite tall enough to ride in the car without it. "But I love guacamole and you think it's disgusting."
"Yeah!" Katie agreed, emphatically.
"I mean, I'm not saying I wouldn't eat beef jerky if I were starving to death. If I hadn't eaten for days and it was the only thing available, I'd eat beef jerky. I would eat a lot of things if I were starving. Probably not rodents. But just about anything else. People get desperate when they're starving," I rambled.
Katie nodded her head, still listening. I continued, "I read this book one time. Grandma Bev recommended it to me when I was in high school. It's called The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. And in this story these people live in China a long time ago and they are very poor and they are starving. They are so starving that they literally go outside and start eating dirt!" I briefly looked away from Katie as I looked out the window at the huge corn field we were passing by. "I mean, dirt! Can you imagine? Filling your tummy with dirt because you are so starv---"
I stopped talking when I turned back and saw tears spilling from Katie's eyes, leaving tracks down her chocolate smudged face. For a moment I saw a little Chinese girl with tears leaving tracks on her dirt-stained face.
"Oh, Honey! It's OK," I said. I didn't know what else to say. I'd made my poor, sweet, compassionate child cry by telling her a story!
What a shitty mother I am. What a shitty librarian I am.
"It's fiction! It's not a true story," I assured her. I didn't mention it's historical fiction based on a true story.
I nodded my head at her and raised my eyebrows like, "OK?"
She nodded her head and raised her eyebrows and tried to smile, but it was totally fake.
Dammit, I don't want her to feel bad about crying.
"It's OK, Sweetie. It's OK to cry about sad things. It's a horrible thing to think of people being so hungry they eat dirt. It's very sad." We met eyes again and I could feel my own getting glassy. We dropped it.
Later that night I came in to check on Katie in bed. She was already asleep. She may or may not have been able to hear me or understand what I was saying to her in her subconscious state, but I felt compelled to say it anyway.
I nudged my head into her neck and whispered into her ear, "It's wonderful you care so much about people you don't even know. It's wonderful that you're such a loving, compassionate person. I'm so proud of my Katie Bug."
She stirred a little, but her breath sounded more like dreams than wakefulness.
Uncertainty is part of life, and I hate it, but I'll take it in trade for these beautiful moments when my body bursts with pride over giving parenting my best shot, when my heart swells with love for our girl.