In a Perfect World:
Socially Blundering and
One morning I went to work out at my new gym and noticed a “Get Well Soon” card on the sign-in counter. I assumed this was for my friend Tracie who was a longtime gym member. She was recovering from pneumonia and doing great according to her Facebook posting. A lot of people had already signed it. I was in a bit of a hurry, so I just grabbed the pen and scrawled WHAT A BIG FAKER near the bottom in big garish letters, then added my signature in happy loops. I thought Tracie would find this amusing. I, myself, thought it was very amusing.
Then the same guardian angel who first showed up when I was 14 by physically holding me back from stepping into a bathtub with a hairdryer bonnet blowing on my head (to shave my legs...surely you can see the efficiency of my plan)—the one whose job description is to keep me from winning a Darwin Award—that one... she clocked in (a bit late) and whispered shrilly “take a closer look, birdbrain.” So I took the time to put on my reading glasses and scan the other messages; all of them were along the lines of “our thoughts and prayers are with you, Carol.” Several of them shared deepest sympathy and condolences...one of them couldn’t imagine life without Bill.
Oh man, oh boy, so this wasn’t a Get Well card for Tracie after all. Not by a long shot. Sheesh. I felt this hot embarrassment spread from my cheeks to my neck, across my scalp, out to my fingers...beyond the horizon and off into the stratosphere.
Well....one's options at a time like this are fairly limited. I thought about blotting out my message entirely with a black marker, but that would blight this lovely card that someone named Carol would console herself with many times over the next few months. Maybe since I was a new member at Tracie’s gym nobody would know that I was the birdbrain who wrote FAKER. It was a longshot hinging on Denise (whose earrings and gym shoes always match her exercise attire) not making the connection. Unfortunately, Denise makes all kinds of connections like who tears the recipes out of the magazines, who doesn’t wipe down the equipment after a workout, and who is closing in on minute 29 of the 30-minute time limit on the stairmaster. She leaves preachy little sticky-notes on the bulletin board regularly and pretty much puts the “cross” in cross-training. Nope, any chance I had of remaining an anonymous, thoughtless jerk was snuffed out as Denise came around the corner just in time to see me standing there, the pen in my hand like a smoking gun.
In the end, I just marked a humble X over my note and wrote a sheepish “I’m sorry, I thought this card was for Tracie” beside it. Then I left without exercising at all, and wondered how long it would take for my social blunder to catch up with me. I found little excuses to not go back to the gym even a week later. I told myself I would ride my bike instead, or that I probably wasn’t going to get my money’s worth from that place anyway, maybe I should just never go back.
When I figured things had blown over, I did go back. Denise coolly informed me that Carol had been “very gracious” about my “faux pas” even though she misread FAKER as another F-word altogether. Also, Tracie had been alerted to the situation. Geez, now it really was a situation. Come on, LIGHTEN UP, PEOPLE! I felt like turning on my heels and running out of the gym. But I didn’t. I didn’t because sometimes when we make a social blunder so bad that we want to just climb up in our tree house for a year, the best thing we can and must do is get right back into “the situation.” If we make a practice of avoiding the people and settings that make us feel awkward, we’re going to miss a lot of life. We’ve just got to get over it already...just deal. If we don’t, then we’ll pass on the learning experience, especially the chance to learn how to laugh at ourselves, and believe me, that is a lifesaving skill. The people who don’t figure this out are never going to gain the confidence they’ll need to achieve their goals.
I heard all these words over and over again in my mind; they were annoyingly familiar because this was the stuff I’d been doling out to my own deaf son, Dane, for so long. As with most people who are deaf or hard of hearing who miss cues, miss the punchline, and miss out on a lot of communication in general, life has given him plenty of experience with social blundering, bluffing and blowing it. It’s a painful thing for a parent to witness, so we try to turn it into a teachable moment. That’s not a bad thing. But now that I took a dose of my own medicine, I had to admit that however true and useful it was, it felt patronizing and insensitive all the same. Instead of being so parentally, confidently, boorishly right, it really would have been ok to be a bit more right now for him at times like this, as in “right now I just want to draw zits in permanent red marker all over the faces of those birdbrains who made fun of your hair!” Or, “Let’s go remove the bookmark from Denise’s novel right now while she’s out in the parking lot writing down the license plate number of the guy who double-parked.”
Sometimes the perfect response is the imperfect but genuine one...the one that says I feel you and I’m going be the tree house you can climb into for a while until you’re ready to come back down.