Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things arent 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, Maam, I answered with matching enthusiasm.
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 didnt realize what she had scribbled until I examined my cancelled checks a few weeks later.
Doesnt work, she had scrawled, concluding that if I didnt 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 dont 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 the gainfully employed do after they get home from their real job. Once, when I received a mid-morning phone call, the lady asked, Whats a woman of leisure like you doing up so early? Then there was the story my third grade son wrote about his family. When he got to me he said, My mother doesnt work. She just stays home and writes books.
I guess I have it coming. I do it, too - jump to conclusions based on my own experience, not allowing for the exception, not really hearing the other persons explanation. We judge a persons 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 at the way a parent treats a child. I vividly remember my disgust at seeing a mother pounding her child on the back just because - I thought - the child was making too much noise. What I didnt know, until after I had spread stories about the abuser, was that the child had a piece of hard candy stuck in his throat and the mother was trying to save his life. (Note: Pounding a child on the back to dislodge an object in his or her throat is likely to make matters worse - the Heimlich maneuver is the preferable option.)
No, other peoples 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 dont use crutches or have symptoms that show. And most of us have some kind of pain we cant 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. I have just loaded my car with all the food in my refrigerator, half the clothes in my closet, and every resource book, computer component, and pertinent file in my (home) office. Next Ill move down the road a piece (New England idiom) to my time-share condo at Hilton Head, where Ill work on my Columbia County history book.
I do this every year - come to the same spot, set up my computer, and work about 10 hours a day on one writing project or another. I also get the same reaction every year: You do what?
Alas, credibility is in the ear of the beholder. Maybe my credibility would improve if I didnt add that I also walk on the beach 3-4 miles a day, go to sleep with the swish of the surf in my ears, gorge my palate on seafood, and spend those 10 working hours next to a picture window in full view of the ocean.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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