Cat in the Sack

I think I make this time of year hard for myself. It needn’t be. Not really.

I think it is a couple of years ago now, I heard a podcaster repeating her own advice to her grown children: stay away from anyone who doesn’t have a close family because there is something wrong with them.

I thought my whole body would explode. I am not often privy to such openly-stated attitudes. If they are spoken, it’s behind my back. Occasionally people do forget – and I can’t blame them since I often seem so normal – and they talk about “those people” in front of me. It’s the way my grandparents would talk about Mexican migrant workers: a soft-serve ice cream swirl of bigotry and pity.

It must feel kind of good going down.

A few weeks ago, my own husband had a sudden lapse of context and, commenting on a tv show’s plot, asked hypothetically, “What would it be like to have to cut ties with your family?”

It used to be that people like me – people in my situation were openly sterilized, shunned, and pitied. That’s the thing with pity. It requires nothing of us to pity someone. Like a horribly deformed kitten, we pity it, we drown it, and that’s that.

There’s a whole lotta whispering. Euphemisms and attitudes are taught first to children before they learn the facts. To protect them until they are old enough to hear the stories. The contexts. To protect the attitudes until the children are so thoroughly inoculated with the proper reaction that the facts won’t complicate the social status quo.

Then again, we are a fearful animal. Maybe it is natural.

Sometimes I wonder if other primates, primates that push their ill to the periphery of the tribe, also believe in curses. Invisible infections. Sicknesses, detectable only by context or association?

There is a woman I have read about in the news who can detect Parkinson’s by smell. There’s that little fact to screw up a theory and make someone doubt everything that keeps them afloat.

If I can smell evil, can evil smell an old wound? A posture of protection is an easy mark.

This is the spin I find myself in every Christmas. The existential, “Why, Santa? Why?”

I’ve read the definitions of pity and compassion, but I think they leave out the fact that pity is self-serving. We pity the lepers and send them to martyrs to care for them.

So this is my seasonal dose of self-pity. If I were to ask for one thing from people it wouldn’t be compassion, it would be for all of us to stay aware of the fact that “those people” we’re talking about with our sweet swirl of euphemism, are quietly walking among us. Silently swallowing all of it. The tropes on the television, the cliches in the charity ads.

Awareness of that fact: “Those people” are not a world apart. And anything more is none of our business. They are not our vehicle for seasonal redemption, not the narrative for our Christmas catharsis.

And they don’t need to “prove it” to you to escape suspicion.

Sometimes a silent night is just perfect.

7 Replies to “Cat in the Sack”

  1. soft-serve ice cream swirl of bigotry and pity – very very relatable and timely post. I am one of “those people” with “maybe something wrong with me”… sigh!

    1. Tomorrow the sun turns. I’ve embraced that as my seasonal celebration. Looking forward to more light in the coming months – so wishing that for you, too!

  2. My own parents would and did feed me to lions. I’d like to tell my story,
    but nobody would want to read it due to the dark…
    So I leave a puzzle piece here and there.

    Yeah and then to hear comments that bespoke blame on us.
    Sincerely, tell me what?
    I have to think of it this way… Grief’s purpose may be that we can help a fellow sufferer. Such as reading your essay, validates my pain.

  3. Context is so easy to overlook–and then the words are not retractable.
    Darkness and quiet can offer comfort sometimes. Sending a warm virtual embrace from over the sea.


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