Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

Out of the Mouths …

It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Fredrick Douglass   

“You know what his problem is?”

At this point I was fuming and unfocused, thinking of what I said and more importantly what I should have said to the stranger who was a redneck twerp.

“He doesn’t listen, doesn’t let anyone give their opinion,” she said. The simplicity of this insightful conclusion stopped me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

I was out for a bike ride with my son and my grandchildren through Calgary’s incredible trail system. It was a lovely, bright day and after a few hours we decided to stop for ice cream.

We sat outside, talking, eating and enjoying being together.

A whiskered man in too-tight spandex rode up on his bike, out of breath and red-faced. He sat beside us. We smiled, said hello, and returned to our conversation.

He interrupted and told us how long he’d been riding, where he’d gone, what he’d done. I wondered when he was going into the shop to get his own ice cream cone.

“Good for you,” my son said. “Great trail system.”

I’m the type of person who talks to anyone and everyone. I figure most people just want to be heard and when they are, it makes a positive difference in their lives. My son is outgoing and approaches life in the same way.

But this stranger for some reason made me want to turn away. Perhaps I thought he was encroaching on the time I was enjoying with my family. I don’t know.

After regaling us with how the city hadn’t done this or that properly, the man started on the issue of oil. “Oil wasn’t causing global warming, overpopulation was doing it. People in countries that can’t fend for themselves should be allowed to die. It doesn’t help anyone to prop them up.”

I hadn’t said much until this point. I replied that I didn’t share that view, but I wasn’t prepared to discuss the issue either. I know when someone isn’t open to debate.

He went on and on anyway, from the environment to politics to Omar Khadr. He had the audacity to say, “The American’s should have let him die.”

At this point I lost it and now it was my turn to go on and on.

In the middle of all of this, my granddaughter said, “Can you come with me to see that art thingy over there?”

And we were off, leaving whatever thought the man had in his brain, unspoken.

When we got to the art installation, Erika said, “He doesn’t listen, doesn’t let anyone give their opinion.” My nine-year-old granddaughter nailed it. She knew the character of the person we’d only just met, better than he understood himself.

And in Erika’s revelation, I understood something else. I was angry with that man not because of what he’d said, but rather by my own foolishness. I chose not to engage with him. In fact, I didn’t want to. But he kept raising the stacks, saying increasingly ridiculous things. He needed to be noticed, heard and I played right into it until he got what he wanted—a barrage of my own opinions and my full undivided attention. Dumb! There was only one fool that day. Me.

Perhaps my granddaughter realized this about me before I did. This is likely why she had pulled me away. The kid was smarter and stronger than both the adults in this situation. 

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