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Yesterday morning I went to the post office to mail a package. I’d gone into the building and then come out to retrieve the recipient’s address and was on my way back into the post office when a man behind me starts talking to me.

I didn’t quite hear him so I turned around with a confused expression on my face. And he repeats himself: “What part of you is handicapped?” I’m taken off guard and completely confused so I ask him to explain himself, at which point he starts yelling at me for parking in the handicapped spot. Except I’m not.

I try to explain to him that I drive the little car that’s next to the SUV parked in one of the handicapped spots, but instead of listening, he scowls at me and tells me that he hopes one day I’ll need a wheelchair and someone takes my spot.

I was shocked.

All of us are mean to someone at some point of our lives, often words or actions formed on misperceptions or unfounded prejudices, and I’m no exception. I’ve also been on the receiving end of bitter spewing of hatred spurred on by racism, sexism, simple dislike, and many other things. But I had never been so targeted by someone I didn’t even know on something that was not rooted in any of those aforementioned reasons.

And I was hurt. Ever since I was old enough to speak, I’ve had a heightened sense of fairness and justice. I’d point out the inequalities between characters in bedtime stories to my mother. It’s the passion that drove my work on the Medill Innocence Project, the reason I’m closely watching the Supreme Court’s decision on the affirmative action case. This desire for justice, as well as some old family history, makes being wrongly accused especially sensitive for me. And perhaps yesterday that feeling was compounded by the fact I was watching the SVU premiere, in which Captain Cragen was being framed for murder.

Now this man looked to be around 50, 55 or so, and not particularly blessed in the appearance department, so perhaps he was just bitter and wanted to make everyone else feel that desolation along with him. The thing is, beyond that initial feeling of anger, I’m no longer really mad at him. There’s a little part of me that wants to see him again just so I can right things and clear my name, even if the blotch is only in one person’s eyes. But moreover, I feel sorry for him. What in his life made him so bitter and mean-spirited?

I went on to spend a beautiful day in the Nebraska outdoors, a solo journey in search of autumn beauty (which I will blog about once I’ve processed the photos), and returned home satisfied and happy. Solo drives through the middle of nowhere are cathartic for me, but so is writing. Now that this is written I can finally move on to other things in my life.

For the mean-spirited people out there, and especially for that man whose hatred was so strong and words so vicious, I hope you one day find peace, joy, and happiness that you can share with all those around you. In the meantime, here are some pretty flowers to brighten up your day 🙂

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