At the peak of our argument, I wanted to erase her from the chronicles of humanity.
I’ve known Jane (not her real name) ever since I can remember. She is the type of person who is semi-good at social interactions. But the more you get to know her, the more you want to run the opposite direction. Perhaps because of this, the people I know just started to drift away from her and preferred her presence in small doses.
My mother warned me about Jane. When Jane was young, she accused her sisters of stealing money from her. When her sisters couldn’t produce the imaginary stolen money, she threw their clothes out the window one by one. Once, a puppy found its way into their yard. Because it was trespassing, she killed it.
My mother knew Jane had a mental disorder. She saw all the signs. Jane could not keep a decent job for a long time. Her house is a pigsty. She is not able to distinguish between a minor problem and a major problem. For Jane, the extent of the problem is irrelevant, her reaction is always extreme. But nobody wanted to confront this fact. So Jane went on her merry little life and proceeded to destroy relationships around her. And I, a humanitarian, thought it was my duty to stick around and put up with her episodes.
When I felt nobody was genuinely interested in how she was doing at work, I listened and gave her advice. When she had nobody to talk to, my boyfriend cooked for her. When she got into arguments, I mediated, even when I knew she was at fault. I went as far as shouldering her water and electric bill. Which is why when she turned against me today, I was really, terribly hurt and angry.
We were already in a heated argument about a remotely related subject when she suddenly asserted that it was wrong to live with my boyfriend and then proceeded to drag my late grandmother into the discussion. The following is a loose translation of her hurtful words:
Do you think your grandmother would approve of what you’re doing?You don’t know why what you are doing is wrong?Do you know what they’re saying about you?
In my mind, I said “I don’t really care about what they’re saying and fuck you, you don’t know what my grandmother thinks. You don’t know what kind of conversations we had before she died so don’t claim to know what she approves and disapproves of!” But I knew it would have made things worse and I didn’t want my grandmother to turn in her grave. I ended up saying “It’s not that I don’t know why this is wrong, I know that this not wrong.”
At that moment, I couldn’t believe what was happening. I’d known of Jane’s bigotry from the very beginning but I never thought she would say those things to my face. There I was, the LGBT activist who had educated countless advocates on human rights, suffering bigotry in my own home.
The argument went on but to cut the story short, her tantrum backfired. Jane ended up cleaning the mess she made. She asked for our help and we obliged. But we did minimal work. And as I watched her begrudgingly get her hands dirtied in her own garbage, I felt pity for her.
Jane’s husband left her. Her own daughter refuses to call her mother and calls her by her first name instead. I don’t know how many friends sincerely care for her. In fact, I don’t even know if she has any friends. And when I think about how Jane and other bigots will be remembered in history, I feel even more pity for her.
Not all of us can make a worthy contribution to humanity, but at the least, we can try to make a positive impact on the lives of people around us. It doesn’t take much to be a loving family member, a caring friend, a trustworthy confidant. Sadly, I’m not sure if Jane is any of these. Maybe at one point in her life, she has been. But to me, and a lot of other people, she’s done more harm than good. That is what we will remember about her. And that’s sad, really sad.
I had a confrontation with Jane today and it taught me a valuable lesson in dealing with my emotions. Bigots like Jane are entitled to have an opinion about us. But in the bigger scheme of things, their opinions hold very little value. All the bad things they’ve done outweigh their good deeds and make them negligible. And to be remembered that way is one of the saddest things that can happen to anyone.
So starting today, instead of getting sucked into the moment, I will always focus on the bigger picture and how my actions will be remembered in the chronicles of humanity.