Three different topics have been dominating my thinking over the past week: September 11th; weight; trolls. This will be my attempt to pull those three disparate topics together with some semblance of reason.
Let me begin with weight: if you haven’t known me for long, you won’t understand that weight—my weight, especially—has colored the way I experience the world for my entire life. For the last 25 years, I’ve considered myself more or less “normal” in the weight department, but my psyche has and always will be an “overweight psyche.” By that, I mean that so much of my early life was dominated by the problems of being overweight that I probably will never completely be free of the overweight mentality that dominates my life.
In the last several months, I’ve been very successful in upping my daily workouts and lowering my caloric intake. My weight, while hovering in the low 150s or upper 140s, remains stubbornly stable, but my overall well-being and fitness are probably at a recent high. Last week I attended another Weight Watchers meeting (I highly endorse this healthy program) where the leader said, “You look fabulous. I’m not just saying that; you look fabulous.” The strange thing is that I believe her: I really do, but I also know that feeling “fabulous” is only one small comment away from feeling defeated and demoralized, completely unlovable and desperate. It all came back in a big way while reading this article titled, “It Happened to Me: I Wrote an Article about Marriage, and All Anyone Noticed Is that I’m Fat.” The author wrote about being married, and the main topic of the commentators (trolls) was her weight. http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/it-happened-to-me-i-wrote-an-article-about-marriage-and-all-anyone-noticed-is-that-im-fat?utm_source=upworthy&utm_medium=pubexchange
Trolls: this is an appropriate segue into my second topic (or third, if you’re keeping track). There was a time where the only place a person might encounter a troll was while traversing a bridge, not so anymore. They’re everywhere, but especially online and especially anonymous. I was reminded of them again by the above linked article. The author posted a picture of herself and her husband on their wedding day, and immediately, the trolls were out, pointing out to an overweight woman that she was overweight. It might have slipped her memory, right? As if it didn’t already dominate every single, waking moment of her life that she was a lot fatter than the ideal Barbie of the 21st century. The question I always have is why? Does it make some people feel better to make some other people feel horrible and unlovable?
I totally get the idea of accountability, keeping people honest, not allowing falsities and untruths to go unchallenged; however, I do not understand the motivation that some people have in hurting other humans, and I can see no other reason for such behaviors. And there are hundreds of them: they comment on people’s appearances, weight, race, age, or whatever. Everything is fair game to them. They berate people who are in accidents, blame them for their own misfortunes; they blame police for doing their jobs and protestors for disrupting the peace, being looters and thugs. They disparage teachers as ineffective but blame society for raising a “gimme” generation. They claim to hate the pull of celebrity, but they’re the first ones to comment on the antics of any naughty celebrity recently caught in a scandal. They’re haters, and they hate. It’s what they do, and I…I…I hate it.
September 11, 2001. We marked the passage of the 13th anniversary of the attack on America last week. It’s a somber day for many people; it’s especially bitter-sweet for me. In 2001, we had a brand new exchange student living with us in li’l ol’ Clyde Park, Montana. Wakhas arrived on 30 August 2001, and none of us knew how to deal with the events of September 11th. Wakhas was Muslim, and he was in an unfamiliar town in Montana, thousands of miles from his home in Berlin.
Those who knew us then know that the story ends well. We and Wakhas weathered the storm of international strife in the same way most people did, and maybe even better. Despite our different cultures, Wakhas and I became (and remain) very close. We practiced respect, understanding, and cooperation.
In 2011, Wakhas and I wrote a short story about our experiences, written in the first-person perspective, alternating his view and mine. I sent it to a variety of publications and got a reply only from the Billings Gazette. It was good, but too long. A week ago, I got a call from a colleague from Billings; she was remembering our story and calling to encourage us to revisit it, maybe rewrite it, maybe a young adult novel. “There’s a need,” she said, “for YA literature about September 11th and about cultural understanding, tolerance. I think about your story a lot.”
Haters and terrorists fall into similar categories for me. They do, however, motivate good people, and that’s what I love, love, to remember about September 11, 2001. Never before, in my baby-boomer memory, had America and Americans come together with so much resolve and so much compassion. Good people were moved to do something, to make a difference, to lessen the suffering of other Americans, without concern for politics, religion, race, age, or class.
Charles Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity” (A Tale of Two Cities). Since 2001, it seems to me, we’ve become more foolish, less wise, and the haters are taking over. I emailed Wakhas and told him about Elizabeth’s email. I expected reticence, indifference, wariness. He replied enthusiastically, writing that it “would be an opportunity for us to send out intercultural peaceful overtones.” He signed off with, “Big hug.”
Big hug, indeed.