Age is a subtle sculptor, gradually molding us into versions of ourselves we might not have recognized in our youth. It imparts wisdom, the kind that elicits a wish for its earlier arrival. Like a patient teacher, age imparts lessons, carving them into the fabric of our being. The burdens we once carried, heavy and cumbersome, now seem like a heap of inconsequential nothings…
The girls approached me, their frustration palpable. I gave Jalika, my younger cousin, an additional look, one that conveyed understanding without any underlying tension. How fortunate I am for those who watch out for others!
As they poured out their grievances, anger bubbling to the surface, I resisted the urge to burst into laughter. On challenging days like these, displaying extra kindness signifies the pinnacle of maturity. True maturity for me lies in perceiving someone’s lack of effort as a lack of interest, regardless of their words or actions. Choosing to remain composed and civil is a clear indication that you have attained a level of maturity.
While I refrain from making premature judgments, I cannot endorse the idea of constantly burdening oneself because of someone else’s behavior. In my fake African American voice, “People are gonna talk and act anyway… And it’s their own cup of tea!”
Sadly, neither concern nor compassion can stop the progressive loss of one’s innocence to age. Age is going to present challenges, which include the jealousy of your species, judgement of your peers and misunderstanding of everyone who is not you. Let me move away from this hypothetical scenario and delve into the real-life incident…
During my recent visit to Farato, my cousin, Jalika and youngest sibling, Nenneh, set out for a routine salon visit, an ordinary enough outing that unexpectedly turned into a tale worth recounting.
Nenneh, eager to have her hair straightened, and Jalika, accompanying her on the mission, entered a local salon filled with the anticipation of a simple yet enjoyable experience. Little did they know that the day would take a disheartening turn, thanks to an encounter with an impolite and, as events unfolded, belligerent hairdresser.
As they entered, the girls extended friendly greetings, expecting the customary exchange of pleasantries. However, the hairdresser responded with a dismissive silence, refusing to acknowledge their presence. Undeterred, my daring younger sister pressed for a response, only to be met with a sulky stare and an impatient, “What is it that you people want?” The curt question hung in the air, leaving the atmosphere heavy with discomfort and offense.
Not one to let such behavior go unchallenged, my younger sister boldly asked the hairdresser about her unfriendly demeanor. Before the hairdresser could muster a response, Jalika, recognizing the need to address the incivility, joined in to express her dissatisfaction. However, instead of engaging with my bulkier younger sister, the hairdresser, displaying a classic bully tactic, turned her attention to the smaller-sized Jalika, responding in a spittingly disrespectful manner.
Annoyed by this targeted response, Jalika decided to stand her ground and give the hairdresser a piece of her mind. What followed was a heated exchange of insults between the two, escalating until a passerby intervened to separate them. It was a confrontation born out of the girls’ determination to stand up for themselves, even in the face of unwarranted rudeness.
In reflecting on this encounter, it’s evident that small, seemingly inconsequential moments can have a significant impact on our daily lives. Such incidents prompt us to consider the importance of empathy, courtesy, and professionalism in our interactions. They serve as reminders that, even in mundane settings, the way we treat others can shape their experiences and contribute to the overall tone of our shared spaces.
In steering clear of premature judgments, I find it challenging to support the notion of consistently carrying the weight of someone else’s actions. The truth remains that people will talk and act as they please, and their behavior is often beyond our control. It’s a harsh reality that becomes more evident as we navigate the journey of aging.
Contemplating the nuances of social visibility, the significance of personal responsibility becomes evident, a lesson illuminated by my voyage of self-discovery. During my childhood, I withdrew from social engagements, ensnared by a sense of self-worth that had been shattered by events beyond my control. With a spirit diminished and self-esteem in ruins, I sought refuge in avoidance, deliberately sidestepping the spotlight and rebuffing opportunities to shine.
The erosion of innocence is an inevitable part of the human experience, marked by the jealousy within our species, the judgment from peers, and the pervasive misunderstandings that color interactions with those who differ from us. These challenges, inherent in the aging process, contribute to the complex tapestry of our lives.
In those formative years, I internalized hurtful comments, allowing them to define me and extinguish my own self-esteem. I grew accustomed to dulling my shine, a coping mechanism that, in retrospect, diminished my potential. However, a pivotal moment came when I saw through the lens of others’ actions and realized how intimidating I was to those threatened by my mere existence.
Today, it’s clear that while I was busy doubting myself, others saw my potential and attempted to cut me down, whether through their words, actions, or inactions. This realization marked the beginning of a transformative chapter in my life. I began to see people for who they truly are. My nonchalant demeanor, often subject to parodies within my small circle, afforded me the benefit of the doubt. The self-inflicted pain and doubt I had experienced led me to a place of philosophical acceptance.
I embraced people, both the mean-spirited and the kind-hearted, and, above all, I accepted my fate. The stoicism that had always been a part of me became even more pronounced as I recognized that people’s disrespect or insecurities had nothing to do with me. It was not my fault, and I refused to change who I am to fit others’ susceptibilities.
This resilience surfaced just last month when I ventured into a friend’s shop to indulge in the luxury of a designer perfume. I found myself in a situation reminiscent of my little cousins’ experience. However, instead of succumbing to a potential confrontation, I chose a different path.
Stepping into the shop at 6 p.m., well aware of the closing time, i.e. 6 p.m., I sensed the salesgirl’s displeasure, even as I attempted to initiate a friendly conversation. Despite my inquiry about the trendiest perfume, her responses were curt and dismissive. Unfazed, I inquired if she recognized me from a previous purchase, but she continued packing whatever, emphasizing the impending closing time.
Rather than reacting to her less-than-polite behavior, I expressed gratitude for her time and gracefully made my exit. It was only at that moment she realized that I had previously purchased the most expensive perfume they offered. She called out for me to return and explore a newer version, but I was already out, on my way home. As I drove away that day, a sense of pure satisfaction enveloped me, reinforcing my decision. Suddenly, I didn’t need a new designer perfume after all…
For me, the act of walking away signifies more than just maturity; it is a declaration of my worth and a testament to seizing control of my narrative. I’ve willingly stepped away from lucrative jobs, alluring enticements, and prized acquisitions when someone else presumed themselves more deserving. The sky is expansive enough for all of us. As the Wolof proverb goes, ‘sayntu asaman, jarrut bouhanteh,’ meaning gazing at the sky does not require rivalry; we’re free to gaze from any vantage point. Thus, when one door closes, it’s not the world’s end; God opens another, perhaps a window to peek through.
I shared the story of my encounter with the girls, emphasizing the power of walking away when confronted with rudeness or unbecoming behavior. Some battles are not worth fighting, and in the face of negativity, the most empowering choice is to simply walk away, preserving one’s peace and not letting others’ attitudes dictate the course of the day or the rest of your life…