Apparently that’s a throwback phrase from the 1960’s. People used to use it as an excuse for dropping out, leaving their jobs, their spouses, their responsibilities. Eventually the phrase drew the collective scorn of society, and rightly so. Seems we’re always looking for reasons to procrastinate, to not take care of business.
Lost in all the scorn was the fact that there are people who truly are unaware of themselves and surely need to find themselves. Some of them get married way too early, not understanding who they are and what they really want in life. Sometimes there’s a perfect storm of opportunity, as they marry someone who is equally unaware. The resulting years of angst, built on a bedrock of ignorance of self and corresponding ignorance of the other guy, is painful to watch.
There’s a bald thin man in my apartment complex who wanders the local neighborhood and building. About six feet tall, he tends to stoop and peer at you from the tops of his eyes, as if looking at you over a pair of glasses. His skin is an unhealthy pallor of white and he is usually unshaven. When he gets on the elevator in his wife-beater shirt, plaid shorts, socks and sandals, he emits a fetid unwashed odour.
He never smiles, never says “hello”.
This man is God’s gift to the postal girl. The poor woman comes in every morning to distribute the mail in our lobby mail bins. And every morning Sallow Man (that’s what we’ll call him) comes down in all his sweaty smelly glory to try to charm her. It’s fascinating to watch.
“How are you today?” he’ll say.
“I’m fine.” Then, with a barely concealed painful expression she’ll offer up the obligatory “and you?”
“Oh I”m fine. I’m fine.”
He’ll check his watch. “Bit early today, huh? Guess it’s too nice out to …uh…..” And with that he’ll lose his point.
She’ll respond. “Uh huh.”
“So did you watch the hockey game last night? Toronto lost again.”
“Um, no.” She’ll move as fast as she can, dropping the mail in their respective bins.
“I used to play hockey. Used to play defense.”
“I was never that good though. They never passed me the puck.”
“Did you ever play hockey?”
“Oh. That’s too bad. It’s a great game.”
“So watcha doing after you finish work?”
“Oh I don’t know. Probably go home to my boyfriend I guess.”
You would think the mention of a boyfriend would kill his efforts. You would be wrong though. You see, this routine, with slight variation, repeats itself every day.
You have to imagine that no one can wander around as he does, without someone saying something at some point. You don’t get to be his age without having someone telling you what they think of you, in some way or another. His superior frown is telling: if at any time anyone complained about him, or told him off, he would take such criticism as a personal attack on his character. The world doesn’t understand him. Therefore the world is wrong.
The man has no self-awareness.
He’s not alone though. He’s just the extreme. Sallow Man can probably exist like this for the rest of his life, which frankly I find is sad. He may very well be a brilliant person, but we’ll never know.
There are so many people in my life – friends, family and work mates – who will do what they do because it’s expected of them. They play the roles society has established for them, and so willingly. It’s safe; it’s predictable and no one will criticize them. They’re buying their house and raising a family. They’ll go to their nine to five jobs and follow a fairly rigid routine. Safety.
And then sometimes, something catastrophic will happen. One of the Stepford spouses will cheat. They won’t quite be able to tell their spouse why they wandered. They knew it felt good but have no idea why they did it. If they’re lucky they’ll get counselling and that will open the door to self-awareness. The unlucky ones will pretend nothing’s really wrong, and will buckle down harder to go back to that routine.
A little girl will grow up watching her father beat her mother. Then, when she gets older, she’ll gravitate to abusive men and she won’t be able to tell you or any of her friends why this is so. What she doesn’t realize or won’t acknowledge is that the abusive boyfriend or husband feels normal to her. Normal, ironically, equates to safety.
And so there we are again: being safe. Safety.
I think safety, and normalcy and routine are all over-rated.