Tuesday, May 25, 2010

that which is small is also big

Cape Cod is just glorious in May.

Before the crowds and heat arrive after Memorial Day weekend, the Cape feels authentic, accessible. The dunes are dotted with the lazy, makeshift blooms of sea spray roses, and the mosquitoes are blessedly few and far between.

My mother, sister, and I camped for a few days in Nickerson State Park, the men preferring to stay closer to the luxury of indoor plumbing. They drove down to meet us on the last day, and we spent the afternoon sprawled out on the shore.

Thirty yards or so from our blanket, I spied a cunning seagull attempting to make off with an unattended bag that our neighbor had stashed under his beach chair. It's something that I don't like about myself, but I usually would take notice of something like this and stay on the sidelines. If I ran over to the seagull and scared it away from the bag, what would happen then? I honestly don't even know what, specifically, I was afraid of. Looking stupid? Maybe. Whatever the reason, I always choose to remain a bystander when my gut tells me I should react, participate, do something.

I decided to listen to my gut. I ran over to the stranger's chair, shooed away the thieving seagull and brought the bag over to our blanket. When the man returned to his seat, I returned the bag and was rewarded with effusive thanks. It was a small act, really. Inconsequential in the scheme of things, and yet, to me, it felt as though I'd scaled a mountain.


Have you seen the show "What Would You Do?" (And no, sadly, it isn't the one hosted my Marc Summers.) A clip of the show appeared on Jezebel last week, and while I'm uncomfortable with its ethical implications (performing social experiments on unsuspecting people and filming the results), I couldn't let go of one particular scene.

An actress is given a fake black eye and other facial bruises to suggest that she has been seriously beaten. She enters a restaurant, sits down, and, soon after, another actor playing her boyfriend sits down at her table. An argument between the two ensues, at which point the "boyfriend" roughly grabs the woman's arm, shouting threats in her face. The scene was replayed four times to determine whether people's reactions to the situation would change based on whether the couple was white or black and whether the woman was dressed "conservatively" or "provocatively." Unsurprisingly, and devastatingly, the women received the least amount of help from strangers when dressed "provocatively" (i.e. a low-cut top and a short skirt). One bystander even commented, "Oh, she must be a prostitute." And therefore somehow deserving of the violence being done to her? Grrrrr.

On one hand, the show made me very, very angry. And yet, there were many bystanders whose concern and proactive response to the situation brought tears to my eyes. I wanted to be one of those people who didn't over-think the situation and remain passive on the sidelines, but instead responded based on their instinctual need to help someone in distress. I wanted to be one of those people who aren't afraid of how people might view or judge them and who simply act.

I wanted to listen to the truest part of myself, the part which sees the common humanity we all share, the part that understands that we can become even more than we are when we connect with other people.

At the end of the day, it's just a seagull, and it's just a bag on the beach. But it's also a reminder that when I listen to my body, it will not lead me astray.

1 comment:

  1. I am so moved by your story on the beach. What a lovely moment where you overlooked your fear to move forward.

    I haven't seen the show you detailed but what you relayed bothers me, too. I'm going to try to keep that image out of my head for the moment and rememeber you and the seagull. And, you know what, it's never just a seagull. It's never just a bag on the beach.