Monday, November 22, 2010


Oh, what may man within him hide, though angel on the outward side!
      - William Shakespeare

 As I rested on the ledge of the pool to catch my breath, I noticed a woman was watching me.  Well, it was more like she was glaring at me.  Through the edge of my goggles I was able to catch a glimpse of her, without making eye contact and she was definitely scowling at me.  I didn't know her and couldn't imagine why she was looking at me in such a threatening manner.  
Ignoring the hostility, I pushed off the wall and started swimming back to the other end of the pool.  My right arm wouldn't extend much past my head and the stroke amounted to a kind of flapping dog paddle, but I was improving. I thought it was funny that I managed not to be swimming in circles.

 After my mastectomy, I lost most of the range of motion in my right arm and I was working hard to rehabilitate it.  Hours of brutal ripping and tearing with the Physical Terrorist had restored some of the function and swimming was performing its share of  wonders as well.  I had a long way to go, but I was getting there, slowly. The water was warm and I felt well enough so I kept up my slow, easy pace, back and forth across the pool.  

That day was one of my better days when I didn't feel sick.  I tried to take advantage of those and spent as much time active, or being as normal as I could. I never knew what the next day might bring.  It could have found me sick on the couch or worse, in the bathroom.  I never wanted to waste a good day.  As I swam, I thought that being bald from chemotherapy could impart some advantages for swimmers.   I didn't need my swim cap and the strap from my goggles didn't slip or pull my hair at all!   "I could almost like this", I thought..."No wonder many of the male swimmers kept their heads shaved".

Every so often I looked around the pool area to see if that woman was still staring.  She stuck around for a few more laps, made it clear she disapproved of me and then after a while she disappeared. 

 I finished, got out of the water and grabbed a couple towels.  It was summer time and I was dreading leaving the warm pool area for that blast of air conditioning in the locker room.  Being bald, and  generally not quite well, also meant that I got chilled more easily so I was in a hurry to get dried off and into some warm clothes.   
I had just removed my wet bathing suit and gotten wrapped up with a towel when I saw the scowler again. She had turned the corner past the sink area and was heading in my direction.  I didn't pay any attention to her and reached into my locker for my clothes.  My back was to her when she began speaking and it took me a moment to realize that she was talking to me.

"How dare you"! she hissed at me.  
 I turned around and there she was right up close in my face. I was so taken aback I hadn't really understood what she was saying.   I had no idea why she was grinding away at me. I'm standing there half naked, and dripping...and shivering.  It's hard to defend yourself intelligently with your pants in your hands...

"Excuse me"? I barely managed to say. 

"How dare you come in here and make a show of your lifestyle!  Don't you know that this is a Christian organization"? She put a heavy emphasis on the word "Christian" .

I was shocked speechless and had no idea what she was talking about. I just stood there staring at a possessed lunatic.  After a few moments of silence I must have blinked and she took that as her cue to continue... 

"Your radical hair cut has no place in a Christian organization!  You can do whatever you want when you aren't in here, when no one has to see you, and as far as I'm concerned you are going to hell... but while you are here you should consider what kind of example you are setting for the children"!
She was on a roll,  "Come to think of it, don't I think people with your lifestyle should be allowed anywhere near children or the Y.M.C.A."!

She stomped off around the corner to the next bank of lockers and I could hear her loudly murmering to someone about THOSE people... 

As I sorted out what had just transpired I realized I was shaking now from anger as well as the cold. I dressed quickly.

"She thinks I'm bald because I'm some kind of radical lesbian??? She thinks I shaved my head as a fashion statement"? What the....? I guess in her mind, she couldn't imagine that anyone could be sick, and still swimming, so it had to be a "lifestyle" thing".

My jaw ached from being clenched, holding back things I knew I shouldn't say, that I might regret... I knew I had to say something but I didn't know what.  The first thing I thought of was that I didn't want anyone else to have to deal with someone that mean.  She was dangerous and could do some real damage.  I am not so fragile, my skin is thick enough but it frightened me to think that she might unload on the next person that did not meet with her "Christian" seal of approval.  I wanted to teach her a lesson.  How could I teach her one that would make an impact?  What could I say that would make a difference?  

 I think it's wrong how people like her use religion as a weapon of hatred rather than as a vehicle for love and understanding. She completely missed the boat on this evangelical moment. 

Although I am not religious I do believe there are important life lessons that are imparted in the bible.  It bothers me a great deal that some people seem to selectively extract only the parts that support their prejudices and miss the big picture.

I thought about all those WWJD bumper stickers and bracelets folks were so fond of showing off. I wondered if any of the people that so proudly displayed them really lived what they preached.
 I wondered further what Jesus would have thought of someone like her and that gave me an idea.  
 I knew exactly what I had to say. 

Once I was fully dressed I gathered up my courage and walked around to the bench where she was sitting.  I didn't want her to see that I was still shaking so I kept my distance.

"Excuse me", I said, assertively.

She looked up and the self righteous smile disappeared  the instant she saw me. She tried to speak but I cut her off. 

In a very loud voice I said, "Apparently, you are unaware that hair loss and baldness are some of the side effects of chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer".  

She realized the depth of the mistake that she had just made and in that moment I could see from her face that she was horrified.  She once again opened her mouth only this time she was trying to apologize.  She got up off the bench to approach me and once again I cut her off. 

I held up my hand- "Stop"!  I said.  "It's too late to apologize to me, the damage is done. 

But since I know just how important being a Christian is to you, I'm going to do what I think Jesus would do in this situation. 

I'm going to forgive you.
I'm going to turn the other cheek and walk away.  
I am going to hope that you learned something.

I got out of there as fast as I could. 

When I made it to the parking lot it was nearly 100 degrees outside. 
I got in my truck, and the heat hit me like a blast furnace as I rolled down the windows and drove off.

I shook all the way home.



Michelle said...

Omigod! (and I mean that in a Valley Girl kind of way).

The depth of some Christian self-righteousness floors me. Like you, I'm often puzzled by those who call themselves Christian and yet practice all manner of intolerance and judgment.

Good for you for standing up to her in a constructive way. It had to be so hard to choose the right words and say them with assertiveness, but not aggression.

Anonymous said...

Jesus Christ! What a wholly effective comeback - I don't mind telling you that I WAS SHAKING thinking you were going to walk away without you setting the record straight!

Then again, it amsued me to think of those who don';t know you not knowing you were "thick skinned"


Tracey said...

All I can say is good for you. You acted more like the Christian she professes to be.

Theresa said...

Way to go!!!! The situation makes me very angry.