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Seaborn: Actions not always what they seem

Posted: July 16, 2017 - 12:28am

"Tell me not, in mournful numbers,

Life is but an empty dream!

For the soul is dead that slumbers,

And things aren't always what they seem."

- Henry W. Longfellow

 

It was a common ritual, standing at the checkout counter waiting for the clerk to approve my check.

"Everything on the front correct?" she asked atonally.

"Yes, ma'am," I answered with matching enthusiasm.

"Work phone?"

"Same. I work at home."

Scribble, scribble, mess up check, open cash drawer, tear off receipt, wish me a good day and turn to her next customer.

I didn't realize what she had scribbled until I examined my canceled check summary a few weeks later.

"Doesn't work," she had scrawled, concluding if I didn't have a phone other than the one listed on my check, I must not work at all. I did wonder why she had no qualms about accepting my check if I had no income, unless she also assumed the only women who don't work outside the home are married or otherwise supported by someone else.

It happens all the time. Tell someone you work at home and they assume you mean housework, which even gainfully employed women do after they get home from their job. Once, when I received a mid-morning phone call, the lady asked, "What's a woman of leisure like you doing up so early?"

Then there's the story my third-grade son wrote about his family. When he got to me he said, "My mother doesn't work. She just stays home and writes books."

I guess I had it coming. I do it, too - jump to conclusions based on my own experience, not allowing for the exception, not really hearing the other person's explanation. We judge a person's financial worth by the house they buy or the car they drive, and assign character traits and intelligence by the jobs they hold or activities they pursue.

Someone snaps at us and we think, "nasty disposition," without knowing that a family member has just been diagnosed with cancer. An acquaintance lets us down and we attach the label "irresponsible," before learning of a failing marriage, troubled child or financial dilemma.

Then there are the snap judgments we make about the way a parent treats a child. Once at a public event, I remember my disgust at a mother who started pounding her crying child on the back because - I thought - he was making too much noise. What I didn't know, until after I had spread stories about the abuser, was the child had a piece of hard candy stuck in his throat and she was trying to save his life. (Note: Pounding a child on the back to dislodge an object is likely to make matters worse. The Heimlich maneuver is the preferable option.)

No, other people's actions, like our own, are not always what they seem. I do work, though I do it at home. People are sick, sometimes severely handicapped, even when they don't use a mobility aid or their symptoms don't show. And most of us have some kind of pain we can't always hide with a smile or sunny disposition.

Now that I have you doing penance for mistreating social misfits like me, I have one more tale to tell. About once a year, I'll load my car with all the leftover food in my refrigerator, half the clothes in my closet and every resource book, computer component and pertinent file in my (home) office. Then I'll move "down the road a-piece" (New England idiom) to a time-share condo at Hilton Head, where I'll work most hours of each day on a current writing project.

Guess what I hear when I advertise my plans?

"You do what?"

Alas, credibility is in the ear of the beholder. But maybe my credibility would improve if I didn't add I also walk on the beach 3-4 miles a day, go to sleep with the swish of surf in my ears, gorge on seafood and spend those grueling working hours next to a picture window in full view of the ocean.

 

Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer and author of the book As Long as the Rivers Run: Highlights from Columbia County's Past. E-mail comments to seabara@aol.com.

 

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