Have you ever noticed that it’s the minor details that explode and balloon when you’re undergoing conflict? Scientists will probably mention something about the hyper-vigilance that comes with the fight or flight reaction, but I’d like to think that us literary people are programmed to notice the small, but significant images that accompany everyday words and actions.
We pause in the middle of the conflict. We notice the thing and it explains the whole scene far better than all of the words and actions put together. An image, a detail can even go so far as to change a world view, if it is done properly.
For me, it was the wisps of gray in my friend’s hair. It changed everything.
Some months ago, I was sitting in the back of a car with her and a guy my age. Five of us were out together on a sweetly cool morning, volunteering around the neighborhood. Perhaps a week or two before that, I had unwisely confessed to the guy that I liked him. Despite some inevitable bumps on the road, the two of us had managed to get pass it, seeing that he wasn’t interested in me and I had somehow immediately repented of my words and feelings.
The only point of contention was my humble request that he not repeat my sentiments to anyone else.
All was well, until that sweet morning, when he ever-so-passively-aggressively brought it up. (Sheesh, what did I ever see in that guy?)
He said something like, “I feel sorry for men, always running away from women.” It was a crack at me, I knew. Never mind the fact that he annoyingly pursued me when we first met…no, it’s women who have the problem. He’s an immature misogynist, yes, we know (see the above comment).
Yet, that’s not what struck me, hurt me, and later made me pause. It was my female friend beside me. The couple in front of us had no idea of what he was talking about, but I could tell that she knew because I could feel anger radiating from her. She proceeded to join with him in making fun of women (or, more specifically me).
I could only think of two things as they proceeded to snub me. One, he must’ve told her (and a few other people) after I expressly told him not to. Two, and most importantly, she had a wisp of gray sprouting from her braids. She was not young anymore, still single, full of fire, but lonely. But just like those silly middle-school girls who tease others for being brave enough to approach the opposite sex, my aging friend was Mean Girl-ing me.
I couldn’t understand her anger. She “took his side” (if we want to go middle school) as if she had no idea of my position. It was as if she had never been a young woman of my age, capable of making dumb decisions about guys. There was no rapport, no compassion, just disdain and incomprehension.
Or maybe she did remember and that’s what made her angry. Many times it’s our imperfections and weaknesses seen in others that makes us angry with them. Who knows? I was changed. My entire respectful view of her went down the toilet, just because of some buried youthful folly in her. All at once, I realized that adults among us have some vestiges of immaturity remaining, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. My tendency to idolize and blindly trust the older ones in my life took a big hit. But if only, if only they remembered they were once like us, I thought, they wouldn’t be so angry and we could trust them again!
It reminded me of a Dylan Thomas poem about the same subject: the folly of youth, the forgetfulness of the old, (or?) the regret of the old. Enjoy!
Youth Calls to Age
Stepping on clouds across the golden sky,
Have known man’s envy and his weak desire,
Have loved and lost.
You, who are old, have loved and lost as I
All that is beautiful but born to die,
Have traced your patterns in the hastening frost.
And you have walked up in the hills at night,
And bared your head beneath the living sky,
When it was noon have walked into the light,
Knowing such joy as I.
Though there are years between us, they are naught
Youth calls to age across the tired years:
‘What you have found,’ age answers through his tears,
‘What you have sought.’