In Her Eyes

Last Friday, something happened in the life of an old lady — I estimate that she was born in the 1930s — sitting at a bus stop in Berlin Mitte. The thing that happened involved me, but I was unaware of it. If she hadn’t made me aware of it, I would have no specific memory of her. But now I do.

When I first noticed her, she had just got up from the bench to turn around and look at me. I gave her a quick look and didn’t think much about it. People stare at me all the time. But when I looked back again, her eyes were still pointed in my direction and she seemed upset or maybe just really eager to tell me something.

I took my headphones off and walked towards her.

“Sie stolzier’n hier über’n Damm als wenn ‘Mir kann ja keiner was.’ Da muss man vorsichtig sein und schauen! Aber nein—Sie müssen das nicht. Arrogant und großkotzig geh’n Sie hier über’n Damm als gäbe es niemand anders.”

[She told me that I had crossed the big street in an arrogant way, that I radiated a kind of confidence and unconcernedness and self-importance that was inappropriate.]

I gave her a slightly puzzled look. That’s what she had to tell me? That’s what concerned her? What exactly had I even done? Is it something about my gait? Is it that I started crossing the street right on the last little bit of the green light? I am still not quite sure.

I hadn’t decided yet how to respond when she reached out to pat my shoulder and said, in English, in an almost cheerful tone,

“Have a nice day!”

I smiled at her and waved my hands at her.

“Ähm… ok? Gleichfalls!”

I continued on my walk, a little bit confused, but with no negative feelings.

It was a bit unfortunate that we didn’t get to talk about the situation, about the basis for her assessment of my character, and about why she had such a strong urge to let me know of her disapproval.

Lacking that, here is my interpretation, which is basically just a guess:

Something I did made her see me as an embodiment of the opposite of a good human being. What made things worse: I did what I did confidently, with no shame whatsoever. From her perspective, I was an impossible person; barely a person. A bad person.

She was not really interested in talking to me. She didn’t need me to understand her view. She didn’t try to change me. All she wanted to do was to reaffirm to herself what made her a good person, and my transgression presented a welcome opportunity for her to do that in the format of a conversation, but without needing to have an actual conversation, a dialog.

It was all about her.

In that situation, I became an object to her that she used to confirm her view of the world.

That is my interpretation.

And, you know, I can’t really be mad at her. There must be something good and valuable about her view. It obviously has served her well for many decades. People shouldn’t be like me. They just shouldn’t.

But has she ever considered that what has really served her well might not be her standards for how streets should be crossed and for how humble one should appear in public? Has she considered that her success and survival has always depended on circumstances largely outside of her control? On other people and their support?

It is also possible that her view of herself and her life is much more negative and she is dissatisfied with many things that happened or didn’t happen. Maybe her moral standards, her identity is all she has left to hold onto.

Everybody needs to be someone. And she wanted to continue being who she was.

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