The ugly man

Yesterday afternoon I chose to do something I had not done before. I felt rude, but chose this action because it was less rude than my initial reaction.

The man was touring the Lightship Chesapeake during the work day I had scheduled for my scouts. Seeing my Sea Scout skipper’s uniform, the stranger approached me with a question about BSA liability. I thought he was interested in the scouting program, but soon realized that the man’s question was merely his way to get my mouth open so he could try to hook me–and my Mate for Administration, who was standing nearby–into his real agenda.

When I responded, the man quickly directed the conversation to his goal topics. First, he explained that he was a first generation American, that his parents were wheat farmers in the Ukraine, and then described his military service.

As he spoke, I noted his unusual height,  the ample girth that protruded over his belt, the hank of greasy gray hair that hung in his face, his Eastern European facial features, and the Extra Large Display of Military Credentials pinned to the middle of his chest like a neon sign proclaiming his greatness. He is not a visually attractive person, but it is the stuff inside that makes him ugly.

Within 2 minutes of his question to me, the man began vituperating about religion and politics, including degradation of a whole class of people. His venom was copious and potent. Each angry assertion built on the previous, becoming more outlandish, more emotional, and more ugly.

As he spat on, I identified several possible responses. I could let him go until he wound down, which might take some time, and make me snappish. I could speak up and counter his ignorance, but the latter seemed unlikely, as his hateful demeanor was clearly rooted in emotion, rather than reason. Or, I could say something blunt and rude, which was very tempting, but surely the wrong choice. Finally, I decided I would do something completely different. I would turn my back on a person, in the middle of the conversation. In the middle of his rant.

So, just like that, I committed the radical act. I gave him my back, looking over the railing at the people walking about on the sidewalk below. And I closed my ears to his hatred. After a minute or so, I ducked between the man and my Mate, saying, “I’d better see how the scouts are coming along,” and headed down the gangplank to talk to the teens about the paint job they were executing.

The big angry man stopped talking to my Mate before long, but he hung around at the top of the gangplank, as if waiting for me to return. I kept talking to my scouts until he had gone toward the back of the ship. The man hung around the ship for a while, and I made sure I kept busy, away from him, and did not again meet his eye.

My scouts finished the work day and we started walking the 2 blocks to the parking garage. I had almost forgotten the big angry man, until I saw his maroon shirt out of the corner of my eye as he sat on a bench adjacent to the sidewalk. Purposely, I turned my head as we neared the bench, “looking” at a nearby building. As we passed the big angry man, he told me what I should do with my scouts. “Line them up and march them,” he shouted. I kept looking at the building as if I had not heard.

During the ride home I thought about the big angry man and wondered what made him so angry. What had happened to him that made him so bitter and vicious, so ready to hate? Instinctively, I knew that it was the very thing about which he ranted, that, as Shakespeare put it, he “doth protest too much.” It was also easy to tell that the fellow was desperate for approval, for recognition of his human worth. I felt bad for him, because he seemed lost and immobile. Though some bad things must have happened to him, the man is stuck in a hell that he had helped to build for himself.

Given the chance to rewind the encounter, I don’t know that I would have done anything differently. It seemed nothing I could do or say could open even a small window in the big angry man’s hell. He is probably doomed to spend his earthly days and nights there. A thought came to mind, one to which I have referred many times in trying to understand human behavior, that every human action is made out of love, or is a cry out for love. Poor big man, he constantly cries out for love–in a way that very few can hear.

(c) 2010 by Shay Seaborne. All rights reserved.

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