I was sitting in the car that afternoon, waiting for my husband to come out of the barber shop. I was comfortably ensconced on the passenger’s side, and as always, I had a book with me to make the wait more enjoyable. In the distance, two small boys approached, one riding a bicycle, the other on foot. Not an unusual thing to see on a city street on a typical afternoon, or so I thought.
As they got nearer, the boy on foot started to pound on the car window, motioning for me to roll it down. I returned to my book, trying to put the old “ignore it and it will go away” theory into practice. Only it wasn’t working. This boy was clearly not going away. He spent the next several minutes pounding on the window and making faces at me, all the while screaming at me to roll the window down.
Sensing that rolling the window down would be a mistake, I looked up at him and mouthed the words “go away” as effectively as I could. He kept pounding and screaming, tossing in a few expletives for effect. I guessed that this child was no more than 10, yet there was something so unchildlike and malevolent about him that I was actually starting to feel afraid.
Those were pre-cell phone days, and the only recourse available to me were to sit there and pray this kid would just get bored and go away or to risk getting out of the car myself. I looked toward the barber shop, but I could see my husband was still in there waiting his turn. It never occurred to me to start beeping the car horn, if only to get someone’s attention or maybe scare this kid away. I was so stunned that this was even happening that my common sense had abandoned me as had any shred of calmness.
I turned away, closed my eyes, and prayed for this to end, all the while listening to the anger being expressed with each loud thump on the car window. I could feel myself getting angry then, angry at myself for not knowing what to do, but more so, angry at whatever circumstances had created such a blatant disrespect in this child.
I turned once again to face him, ready now to scream at him. Suddenly, he spit on the car window, laughed, and ran off to rejoin his friend who’d been just a few feet away, sitting on his bike. I watched disgusted as the saliva ran down the glass, but relieved that it was over. I waited awhile to make sure they were gone, got some napkins out of the glove compartment and got out to clean the window. I trembled as I tried to erase as much of that child’s rage as could from that window, knowing it would take me awhile to calm down.
When I told my husband about it later, he said, “Yeah, well, manners are pretty much dead, along with simple common decency.”
It took awhile, but I eventually was able to reconcile what had happened with the possibility that this boy’s home life was probably less than ideal. I made a concerted effort to recall all the good things I’d seen kids do and that I hoped would heal this particular wound in me. Because that is what it felt like, a wound. A spiritual gash inflicted on me by a little boy who thought that being mean was funny and a way to impress his friend. Or perhaps he lashed out at me because I was convenient when actually who he really wanted to lash out at was unavailable and maybe was so most of the time.
The short of it was that I’d never know. I’d heard so many horror stories of rude behavior, poor manners, and lack of common courtesy. But experiencing it first-hand forced me to take a fresh and closer look at what up until then had been merely hearsay.
A 2009 article published by Faith Sallie on Oprah.com asks if rudeness has become contagious. And if so, are we all carrying the virus? Remembering this boy’s behavior toward me, I hope someone somewhere was able to develop a vaccine before he got the opportunity to do it to someone else.
Oprah.com: Does America Need a Time Out? http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Is-Rudeness-on-the-Rise