These days, I am trying to keep my patience and save my energy as much as possible.
I keep telling my students, colleagues, family and friends that one of the biggest challenges in life has become how to keep calm in the face of the numerous reasons you could otherwise be angry. I keep telling them that this is one of the top lessons we need to teach our young generation and children — i.e., those who still want to learn from oldies like us and have some faith and confidence in our wisdom. Honestly, we the older generation is leaving behind a horribly messed-up world for them; its up to them to decide whether they want to clean it up or destroy it even further. If they want to clean it up — and I hope they do — they need to learn how to stay calm, composed and focused in spite of the many provocations and turmoils caused by the people in power. They need to learn how to be stoic, and sift through small, mundane things to deal with the real important ones.
Now, what the heck does it have to do with the title of this post: This is Brooklyn, New York. [This is] Not your United States? What does it really mean? I mean, look at the sentences: on the surface, together, don’t even make any sense!
It has a little, real-life story behind it — as a vast majority of my blogs have had some kind of real-life connection. What happened was that this morning, I went to do some small groceries at a locally-owned store here in Brooklyn. I picked up some fruits and vegetables and stood in the line that had perhaps three or four people in front of me, and no one behind. It is a small store and there is not much space to move around near the cashier’s check-out machine. This is a store run by a Hispanic owner; most workers, if not all, are also Latino women and men.
So, waiting in the line, I saw an old white woman pushing her cart full of stuff she bought and she was tentatively looking at me as if she was trying to find out if she could get in front of me, or behind, in the line. I would have no problems letting her come in front of me especially when I was the last person in the line; in fact, my deep-rooted Indian courtesy for older people often makes me do such little acts of benevolence. So, I said, “Would you like to come in here?” Or, maybe, I thought, she was trying to sneak by me into the isle for milk and dairy products.
And then the old woman said something that was quite out of the blue. She yelled at me, really yelled at me on top of her voice, “This is United States. We don’t do it around here. In the United States, we do not come that way. This is United States…here…”
Oh my Gosh, why did I even bother to be nice and polite to her, I thought! I was so taken aback (a mild way) that I even told the cashier girl about my feelings. Of course, she didn’t want to comment: after all, she wouldn’t want to remark on another customer’s behavior. Maybe, she was all too familiar with such incidents happening regularly in her workplace.
Obviously, this was an old woman who was probably quite a bit on the crazy side and didn’t know what she was talking about; it’s likely she was upset at something else and took it out on me at her first opportunity. It could be she thought she had reached that age where she thought she had the right to yell at anyone she met. Or, it could be that she thought I didn’t know the rules of “her” United States: obviously, with a brown skin, mustache and beard, and with a “non-mainstream” look, I definitely did not fit her traditional concept of someone who belonged in “her” United States, and she thought she could tell me that she was not happy that “we” invaded “her” United States.
I know I’m making a big deal out of it. Sure, I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill, so to speak. But I am doing it for a reason. I know that living in Brooklyn, New York, this is not a totally extraordinary incident; in fact, I have had such experiences — more memorable in nature — over the past few years. (No, I’m not talking about the post-9/11 anti-immigrant hate crimes and violence that I wrote about on this blog before; I’m only talking about small, personal, hard-to-deal-with experiences here in New York City, the so-called paradise of diversity and tolerance).
I know such things happen in life, and it was not in any way that bad or hurting. Living in a mega-city like New York, Calcutta or London has its pluses and minuses. We need to know how to deal with it and ignore the insignificant. But the incident still troubled me a little. I would not remember this morning’s experience for too long; but I would want to remember it for at least twenty-four hours before it slipped into oblivion.
I would not even want to say too much on it. But I would want to remind ourselves and our young generation about the absolute necessity to stay calm in the face of provocations — big or small.
Brooklyn, New York