I had been married to my husband, James, for 7 years before we had children, mostly due to the influence of the world around me, and also partly because of selfishness. I loved James and our dog Spencer. What else was there? I remember standing behind a new friend from church as we lined up to get tacos at the Fellowship Hall, a.k.a Taco Bueno. Our church ate there so often after church we deemed it the fellowship hall. I asked, real exasperated like… “You have how many children and you want to have how many more?”
Now 20 years later I remember 2 things about that conversation that have helped me throughout the years.
My First Takeaway from that Conversation
One: I asked this question about family size because I was genuinely interested in family life. I was a little embarrassed about my fascination with all things Mommy because sometimes our culture can teach that if a woman isn’t interested in pursuing money, corporate prominence, and a career she must be oppressed, or invaluable. So, I asked in a way that was challenging and yet, the truth was that I really wanted to know everything there was to know about large families. I wanted to understand, but I lacked manners, and I didn’t want to leave the comfort of the 2 billion or so people who think homemaking is a thing of the past, so I was pretty confrontational in my inquiry.
When a person asks me a question about hepatitis C, even if they ask it wrong or it comes across as discriminatory, I try to remember that I, too, ask a lot of questions, and sometimes my curiosity outweighs my tact. Maybe they are like me and genuinely have an interest, only they again are like me and lack manners. I am not a mind reader, maybe this confrontational stance I am feeling from my inquisitor isn’t personal, rather, the inquiring mind is just uncomfortable about asking, or they’ve heard misinformation or their ex had hep C and poisoned their dog, or the moon is in its 7th lunar phase to Jupiter and Uranus. Who knows? We cant assume every question is a personal attack. Truth? We just aren’t that important to others. People are rude without us having ever left our bed in the morning. It’s not about us. They may just be rude. Sometimes I am rude. A lot of our poor behavior just is. It’s not personal, so don’t take it that way. Even if a person is openly rude, I try to remember to answer with my principals and not my emotions. I know some things and then I feel some things. Feelings are fickle, unreliable and change with the wind, best stick to the things we know. Like kindness is always appropriate, and a soft answer turns away wrath and integrity begets integrity. These are absolutes our emotions are never absolutely anything.
The Second Thing I Learned that Day
Two: The woman I asked had every right to reply in a way that was defensive or snarky and yet she didn’t. She very cheerfully answered as though I hadn’t asked a rude, ignorant question. I guess she gave me the benefit of the doubt, or maybe she was wise enough to understand that kindness and warm answers can deflate a challenge like nothing else. Or maybe she knew that answering graciously may even convert a skeptic. Its really difficult to maintain feelings of disgust, discrimination, or wariness with a person who is warm and open to sharing the truth about your misconceptions.
I’ve seen it happen over and over. A soft answer turns away wrath.
I understand how hurtful it can be to hear or even feel the judgment of another human regarding our hepatitis C status. It hurts. Bad. Part of the pain may be associated with the fact that so many people assume all hep C patients are addicts. Whether we were, currently are, or never have been addicted, the harsh judgment meted out by most people is never helpful. I believe this makes our obligation to share with goodwill and gentleness even more important. You know, if we get offended and huffy people will just feel justified in their assumptions that we are this or that. We should never allow harmful assumptions to flourish, I say we override false notions with class and patience. It very satisfying to overcome evil with good, it also makes the world a nicer place when we convert a bozo into a buddy. The extension of grace is always appropriate, because, honestly who among us hasn’t been a bozo from time to time. And about that woman I was so rude to, she eventually became one of my dearest friends, who cheered me on as James and I grew our family from 2 to 8.