I was at the gym today, riding the exercise bike, wearing my headphones, and reading a magazine when an older gentleman walked by me. I don’t normally notice what others are doing at the gym, but this gentleman got my attention because he stopped right in front of my bike. He paused for a moment, quite obviously checking out what I was reading. Then he looked directly at me, raised his eyebrows, and continued on with a smile. I wasn’t sure exactly what to make of his actions. I suppose it’s possible he was impressed. Maybe he’d never seen a woman reading articles in The Economist before? Perhaps he was surprised I could ride, read, and listen to my iPod at the same time? Maybe he wasn’t entirely sure a blonde could read at all and he was shocked? I’ll never know because I kept right on pedaling.
The whole wordless encounter had the wheels in my brain spinning as fast as I was spinning that bike, though. That man’s bemused countenance, although it shouldn’t have, flat out bugged me. I’d love to assume that his smile was full of compliment and not condescension, but I don’t believe that. I think he was judging me with both his surprise and his amusement. I didn’t like it.
We are too quick to put people into a box based on our own prejudices and preconceived notions. I know I have a grand time doing this. Truth is, though, no one fits neatly into any category. We’re all unique and interesting with our quirks and preferences. I went to college in liberal Boulder where I studied the arts. I recycle like a woman possessed. I bag my own groceries with cloth bags. I love to practice yoga. Although all those things have a friend convinced I’m something of a hippie, I would counter that my intense dislike of patchouli, tie dye, and Birkenstocks puts me firmly on the outside of traditional hippie culture. I’m a Democrat, but I am against the Estate Tax and want to see wasteful government programs and subsidies suspended. I’m an introvert who will stand up and speak in front of groups. I hate spiders but will capture a snake stuck in our window well. I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle. Aren’t we all?
A while back I was recounting to a friend my annoyance when I tell someone I’m a stay-at-home mom and that announcement effectively ends our conversation. My friend’s response was, “Why do you tell them that, then?” That was a light bulb moment for me. Why do I wrap myself up in the mantle of stay-at-home mom and then scorn others who then think of me solely in that fashion? What other choice did I give them? Sure. I’m a mom. But, I’m also much more. Who I am is not reflected in any one thing I do but evident in my complexity. Why do I fold myself into such a neat little package for others when I’m claustrophobic to begin with? I think we’d all be much happier if we unboxed ourselves and took more time to unwrap others as well.