The first time I saw him rub his chest as if he felt warm and loved all over, I had just said this: “F*ck you. You’ve never given me any help. Gary Condit was nicer to Chandra Levy than you are to me. I hate you.”
He sat there rubbing his chest and smiling at me as if I’d just said something that a) made sense and b) he was grateful for.
“Why are you rubbing your chest like that?” WTF was wrong with him? I had just insinuated that he was meaner than a murderer (because I was still under the impression that Senator Condit was involved in Ms. Levy’s murder. HE WAS CLEARED OF ALL CHARGES, so please don’t sue me.)
His answer has taken me years– almost eleven for those of you who care about numbers (and don’t get me f*cking started on The Children’s Place t-shirt that celebrates a fictitious cultural assumption that girls don’t care about math because they are busy putting on lipstick)– to understand.
All those years of pricey sessions and health care expense forms to understand the riddle: Why does my therapist rub his chest gratefully when I hurl vituperative accusations at him?
What it took was a handful of comments on a post I wrote for me get it.
The subject of the post concerned my relationship with my nanny whose religious practices include fasting from sunrise to sunset for thirty days during Ramadan.
My post betrayed my ignorance, which, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know is hard to hide. I didn’t know how bodies adapted to the fasting during the long summer days and my ignorance led to concern about health and safety. (Honestly, how could I know that since I’ve never done it? I understand Ramadan fasting only slightly less than I understand Mormon missionary work, Jewish mikvahs, or the Hindu Kartika Shudda Padyami.)
As an experiment to test my mental health, I decided to “check out the comments” on that post. I failed the test. My palms grew sweaty when I read comments from people who were insulted that I would intimate that Muslims were unable to care for children during Ramadan. My gut clenched and zoomed to my chest as I realized how insulting my words were to legions of women who care for children every year while fasting.
Then, my whole body started to shake when I read what people had to say about the fact I have a nanny at all. Those sentiments were so foreign to my way of thinking that I laughed out loud– that nervous laugh that I do when I am shocked beyond tears. Maybe you have an ugly cry; I have an ugly laugh that’s fueled by fear and indignation and incredulity. And shame.
All parts of my body reacted– I couldn’t stop my legs from jangling in my chair, my mouth was dry as I compulsively stuffed pieces of bubblemint gum into it. I called friends to ask them if I was a horrible person either because (1) I didn’t understand aspects of Muslim culture and had the gall to write about it, or (2) because I worked outside of the home and employed a nanny to “raise my kids for me.”
The people I imposed upon to give me their opinions gave me a range of responses. Unanimous was the notion that I should stop reading comments because they were making me more neurotic than normal. Half the people helped me see how a reader could be offended. Other people expressed surprise that I would touch the subject at all.
Gaining insight was useful, but I couldn’t un-read the comments. Their contents have rattled inside me for the past two weeks. You don’t love your children. You’re offensive to Muslims. Stop patting yourself on the back for being open-minded enough to hire a nanny from North Africa. STFU, lady.
This morning I thought of my therapist and his annoying chest rub thing. Could that gesture help me here? Could I be grateful?
I rubbed my chest and experimented with being thankful for all the comments. Thank you for paying attention to me. Hmmm. That seemed like a way of looking at it, even though I didn’t love being called out for not loving my children. Thank you for engaging in the conversation. That worked too. I rubbed some more, hoping that the people who can see into my office don’t think I’m copping a feel on myself.
Thank you for touching my heart.
Thank you for reminding me how I want to act on the Internet and in my life.
Thank you for scaring the sh*t out of me with your crazy ass comments and reminding me to stop reading them.
Thank you for the invitation to search my heart for meaning.
Thank you for pointing me towards a better understanding of the world around me.
Thank you for taking the time to let me know you were offended.
Thank you for remaining anonymous so I could think about bravery and courage.
Thank you for guiding me to a deeper conversation with my nanny and her family members about their faith, mine and how we can better love each other.
Damn if it isn’t working. I’m feeling grateful for all of them.