I had an appointment today to meet my wife at the office of the Beechwood Cemetery. I live nearby and had planned to walk through the cemetery, getting some fresh air and I was looking forward to the colours of the season. The problem was I was about twenty minutes away from the office while my meeting was to start in fifteen. So I began to run. Not fast, but a light jog. After a couple of hundreds yards, I was winded (I have a cold) and I began to walk again. I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life but I didn’t want the last stupid thing I do to be triggering a heart attack because I was going to be five minutes late for a meeting to plan my funeral. I can laugh at myself generally but that would have been too much.
While I can’t remember some things from last week or last year, I have an odd ability to remember dates from the distant past. In ways that can surprise some people. For instance, today, October 16th is the birthday of a woman who I tried to date while we were in university. Nothing came of it and I never even got to kiss her but somehow, thirty years later, I still remember her birthday. Happy Birthday, Jane. And October 18th is the birthday of an old girlfriend of mine. I’ll always remember that she threw herself a big thirtieth birthday party because she knew none of her irresponsible friends would take the reins and give her the celebration she deserved. After we broke up, she was soon engaged to the man she would marry. I was invited to the wedding. I didn’t go because I was upset that she didn’t realize that her wedding day fell on my birthday. Silly. I think she’s divorced and re-married now but if she ever needs a reminder of her old wedding anniversary, I’m the one to call. Happy Birthday, Jen.
While I walked through the cemetery, it was cold and windy. That kind of different feel in the air that marks the change of seasons more than any calendar does. The seasons changed long before there were calendars and they will continue to do so long after we are gone. Today felt like it became road hockey season. Or fire place season.
As I continued my walk, I tried to imagine what my mother may have gone through as a secretary in the sixties and seventies. Her workplace always had male bosses and female subordinates. More than a couple of times, I heard people of a slightly older generation than me use the phrase, “chased her around the desk”. It was said playfully and anecdotally but even as a teen, it always struck me as a bit off. And now it seems insidious.
And I’ve tried to remember my own experiences. In a broad sense, I’ve been sexually harassed but I never felt threatened and it was never by a superior and I would chalk it up as mostly harmless, unwanted flirting. On the spectrum, I’ve had it easy.
But then I remembered something from about twenty-five years ago. I had a girlfriend for a short time who I had worked with in a restaurant. And she had said to me that when she had started working where we worked together, another co-worker had told her that a good way to get good sections and better schedules was to sleep with me. I had no idea this person had said this and there wasn’t the least bit of truth to it and I felt terrible about it. I think the other person was just making a dumb joke and didn’t mean any harm by it but the young woman later told me that she had believed it. And that’s all that counted. She believed it.
I didn’t know it at the time but I was unwittingly part of a culture of sexual harassment and coersion. Even when I thought I was standing up for righteous causes and defending the more vulnerable among us.
When we are white, we don’t know what it’s like to be black. When we are men, we don’t know what it’s like to be women. When we are straight, we don’t know what it’s like to be gay. We can’t know what it’s like. But we can listen to the stories and try to understand. And we all want to be understood. It’s why language exists. To make each of us understood. And when we understand, we are more likely to respect. And be respected.
God Damn It. It shouldn’t be that complicated.