“Didn’t you see him?” hissing under her breath, a mother in her early thirties reprimands her daughter for not yielding to an elderly man at the doorway of a local library. The girl is perhaps nine years old. And, from my observational point of view, she is or was completely and excitedly absorbed in her stack of new books, portals to alternate worlds of grand adventure.
“Ow, you’re hurting me,” I hear the girl respond, as I witness her incensed mother taking the child’s one free hand to twist the girl’s arm behind her back. In my heart, somehow I know this frustrated mother is attempting to underscore her original, parenting point through this physical addition.
Visibly tired, as well as being angry and impatient with her daughter for not yielding to the elderly man in the doorway, the mother continues the verbal lesson, “We yield to elderly people. It is courteous. You need to pay more attention.”
The scene takes up less time than it would take to air a thirty-minute commercial. The mother wants to ingrain in her child a common, social kindness, so that that kindness becomes automatic. Yet, being socially courteous requires each of us to be fully grounded in our bodies and aware of our surroundings in present time. And the manner in which this mother has chosen to underscore her point, in terms of physical reprimand, will do nothing but drive this girl further out and away from her personal, physical center.
As an observer, all I can envision is how this child—as an adult—may end up in tears on a yoga mat or in the office of a physical therapist or on the table of a licensed body-worker, trying to understand the origin of the pain in her right shoulder and the source of her inexplicable grief. The body does not forget. Even as the sands of incidental, daily memories are wiped clean by the tide of time, the body does not forget.
As I finish crossing the foyer of the library into one of the building’s sunniest wings, I see the beauty of the sun’s light playing through the leaves of a tall, potted tree. Turning toward the comfort of nature brought indoors, I ponder why we—as a society—continue in our attempts to teach kindness through brutality.