I'm going to come clean. I withheld a star today from someone who probably needs it the most, just because her attitude makes me angry. I am not proud of myself. I know that, in the spirit of giving, giving even to those who are misguided is important.
This woman is a pilates teacher. She is standing up (or laying down, alternately) to try to help and inspire and instead she is preaching intolerance.
"Ladies, ladies," she said during my first--and last--class with her recently. "Do not look around. If you do, you will be disappointed in yourself because so rarely do people look at someone else doing a beautiful move and say 'good for her...'"
This was guidance? Inspiration? No. Unfortunately, in this neighborhood and in so many others, that is often true. People can't be happy for other people. Hers was a statement on the sad state of our society, on our jealousy and lack of self-confidence, on our utter inability to cheerlead. What she's saying is that "You go girl..." is just a pipe dream in Park Slope.
But that is ridiculous. She should not be in the position that she's in, trying to help others try. She is not trying hard enough, listening to what she might be saying beneath her words. My friend and I laughed when the words came out, more in surprise probably than that we found it funny. But in the days since then I have found myself retelling the story in anger. We are in the world with others. We cannot help but look, and when we do we should be able to get inspired by their beauty, by their strength, by all the things we see that we strive for in our self.
A yoga teacher whose class I frequently attend captured the essence of what this pilates teacher was, I think, getting at far better. "As you practice," she said, "think about yourself, believe in your practice." Then, she paused, thinking. "I don't even know what that means," she laughed. She might have added or I just heard in my head afterward, "It means whatever it means to you."
That is the theory of the gold star. Its only meaning is whatever it means to you. Believe in it, others be damned.
One lady, today, took her gold star and asked if she could use it in a centerpiece she was creating for a class. She is trying, later in her life, after a career as a journalist, to become a decorator. She has gone back to school at great personal and financial cost. She is passionate about it. Good for her. I told her, of course, "You can use it however you want. It is about you, not about me!"
Another woman brightened visibly after I placed the gold star on her chest. She had stumbled in to the cafe with her behemoth of a stroller, apologizing as she bumped patrons, mortified that her teething baby was wailing, intermittently but uncontrollably. Poor thing. Both of them deserved a star, the mom for her efforts to help the baby, the baby for letting up on crying in between the pain of teeth breaking through sensitive gums. I decided the baby could easily choke and die on the star, so opted against giving her one. I think that was best. The plan is not to kill the crying babies, but to help the moms feel better which, in turn, will ease the babies' burden. It is a cycle after all.