This past week I was riding in an elevator to go to a meeting at a nonprofit I’m going to be doing some volunteer work for. It was an older New York City building, with somewhat smaller than standard elevators. A brunette woman in her earlier thirties got on after me, and then an older woman stood in the front.
The brunette was a large woman, dressed in a t-shirt and black pants. The older woman had long “blonde” hair and was wearing a tweed suit and pearls. His pink pocketbook matched her shoes. She was perhaps in her late seventies—older and thin, but by no means frail. She looked very proper and well-coiffed.
So the elevator reached the brunette’s floor and the doors opened. “Excuse me?” she said to the older woman, who was blocking her path to the door. The older woman didn’t move. The brunette repeated herself.
The older woman grumbled and huffed, then moved over. After the brunette left the elevator, the older woman turned to me and said:
Did you see her? She was so big she could barely fit through the door.
True, the girl was large. At one time I was probably close to her size. I’m not exactly petite myself now. But she wasn’t anywhere near having to stand sideways and grease herself up to be able to shimmy and squeeze through the doors.
I said nothing. I looked at that mean old lady with what I’m sure was shock and disgust, and then stared straight ahead. We both got off at the same floor. Thankfully, she wasn’t going to the same place I was.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about what happened. It’s been eating at me a bit.
I can’t tell if she was deliberately blocking the doors to be spiteful, because she disliked overweight people and wanted to give this woman a hard time. Or even reacting to her subliminally, due to some personal prejudice against the obese.
She could also have been living in her old world, and was simply startled/bothered to taken off-guard. The city is crowded; we are constantly vying for space. People get grouchy, times are tough right now, and we all get on each other’s nerves.
Or she might have just been an arrogant little witch who thinks it’s her world and we just live in it.
She may simply have responded with the quick jab, the easy, most obvious type of insult. She was the inconsiderate one, so she deflected. Moving out of the way for one another should be such a small thing, such a basic courtesy. Yet she made a federal case out of it and tried to rip into the woman for asking her to take a few steps to the side.
I wonder too, if I should have said something more, if my silence was enough. I can be fairly outspoken. In fact, often I’d be better served if I shut up. I’ve been told that I should never play poker. Bosses, ex-boyfriends, family members, etc. can always tell what I’m thinking by the expression on my face.
Arguably, she was probably old and settled in her ways and my words would have meant nothing to her. Maybe they would have made her think a little. Maybe I missed an opportunity.
You never know, she could have wound up at my meeting. There were going to be people there I didn’t know, arriving at the same time. Which would have been unpleasant. But honestly, I wasn’t even thinking about that. It wasn’t a conscious decision, nor did I chicken out. I was shocked, but distracted.
I was in my own head, focused on thinking about my meeting and whether it was going to go well. I was also a little nervous, a little cranky, and if I had said something it would have come out the wrong way. Nasty and shrewish, insulting instead of making a valid point. Sometimes I’m not good at thinking of the right way to say things off the cuff. I think of what I could have said after the fact, and then I kick myself.
I tend to kick myself a lot.
I think we all should speak up, address wrongs. Otherwise, how will anything change? I gave her a dirty look, and I’m sure she knew I thought she was wrong. But I feel like maybe I should have done more. What would you do in a situation like this?