This has been such a whirlwind few months. I keep trying to find a window to blog and make sense of it but can never find, not so much the time, but the right moment. It seems that whenever I try and make sense of something one moment, something else happens and I’m thrown off-kilter once again.
But the stories of the past months can wait for a while longer. Something much more immediate, much more visceral happened today that I want to try and capture before the moment passes.
My 11-year-old car has been forcibly retired and I am in the process of looking for another one. This means that, for the moment, I am taking the bus, come wind, rain, sleet, or shine. This evening, on the way back from my regular weekend shift at Oxfam, I was waiting at the bus stop with a couple of bags of groceries, when I was accosted by an elderly man, who looked well into his seventies. Like many locals I encounter in this town, many of whom stop and chat and ask where I come from, was I studying at the university and how long I plan to stay, this man did the same.
Only, it wasn’t long before the questions crossed the barriers of social decency quicker than the Germans crossed the Maginot line. There were many other people at the bus stop, though I was too taken aback by the kissy noises he started making to notice if anyone could hear us. The presence of a crowd certainly didn’t stop him from asking if I was getting enough sex, amongst other rude things.
It is curious how throughout the five-minute or so encounter, even though at no time did I feel in danger physically, I could still feel mentally violated and intimidated. Sexual harrassment is pretty icky, even if the perpetrator is possibly senile. It also made me wonder if the sexual intimidation was possibly a racial intimidation tactic, as there were plenty of white girls around, and I seemed to have been singled out by him as a non-white female, a foreigner.
I felt off-kilter the entire evening, and tried to see if I could do a loving kindness meditation. I ended up just meditating and not “trying” to achieve anything in particular. Finally, I was not physically harmed and there was no real accomplishment in trying to work out his motivations. He may well have been senile and not in control of his wits, or he may well have racist inclinations, or he may have just been a truly tragic individual.
Nevertheless, as I sat, I found that the questions that surfaced were not of the man’s motivations, but mine. I found myself wondering why I continued to suppress my better instincts as I listened to him and allowed him to carry on instead of saying something in order to put a stop to it or even walking away. It was as if I felt like I couldn’t be rude! I’ve read sociological accounts of women internalising the need to suppress their individuality in favour of social harmony, but this seemed a bit extreme, and it made me wonder if, had the circumstances been different, whether I might not have been in some real danger? Was I intimidated because I let myself be? And then I am reminded of all the stories of self-loathing one reads about how rape and harrassment victims sometimes feel, and think, no, the guy was a creep, senile or not, and may his karma catch up with him.
The only thing left to do is to stop attaching all these narratives to the incident and sit with my sense of being off-kilter for a while more. And of course, to get a new car as soon as possible. Whoever said materialism didn’t solve problems?