We’re sitting in front of one of the legendary Italian eateries in my neighbourhood, eating our legendary Paninis on a sidewalk table. Next door is a café. An independent, run by two generations of Italians.
A woman with a baby slung across her chest is sitting down drinking her coffee—from, ahem, the international coffee franchise across the street.
As we bite into our sandwiches, we realize that we have ring-side seats to a midway argument. Junior Italian comes out and says, “Listen Lady, you can’t sit here, I already told you.” He’s forceful. My kid looks at me with saucer-sized eyes that say, He’s yelling at a lady with a baby! Her back is straight, her feet are firmly planted next to her wilted grocery bags. “I don’t have to move and you can’t make me.” She replies. She looks over him, like he’s invisible, and defies him with a slow sip of coffee — out of the international coffee retailer’s cup.
Jnr. Italian theatrically removes the chairs from around her, pushes a table away from her. The metal grinds against the cement. I stop eating. This could get bad.
Then Senior Italian comes out. And he yells at her. “You can’ta sita here a- lady. You buy a coffee from here or you a-go.”
“I’ll go when I’m done.” She says. He curses. Goes back into the café. She’s strong when he’s there, but when he walks away, she takes a deep inhale. She’s determined not to crack. My heart is aching for the baby who is acting as an energy shield between the mom and the Italians. I send the baby light.
Another round of arguing ensues. Jnr. Italian comes back out to make a very loud point. She says, “Look, it’s public property and I can sit here.” It’s actually not public property. And they actually do have a right to ask her to leave.
Next come the Community Police. By the time they arrive, she’s done with her coffee and is packing up to go. Moot point.
We finish our paninis. My heart rate subsides and I announce, “I’m going in there to say something to that guy.” My kid: “You are?!” Amazed, like I just put on my bullet proof bangles. If I back out now, my kid will think my super powers have weakened. I have to go through with it.
I walk into the café and Senior Italian is sharing an espresso with a customer. He’s one of those silver-haired, tanned, older gentlemen. Handsome. He sees me coming and he seems to sense that I’m not here for a cappuccino.
I’m a bit nervous. My tone is soft, “About what just happened out there with that lady … ” I touch his arm, because I’m like that, always affectionate when it’s okay to be. “Look, she was wrong, and you were right. It’s tacky to bring someone else’s coffee into this establishment.” He nods, solid, proudly in agreement. “But you know, man,” I go on, “you treated her like shit and that was so not cool.”
Amazingly, he’s not defensive. He’s more… curious. Conversational. “I was a-nice to her at first. But she was a-rude.” He points out.
“Who cares if she was rude. She was carrying a new baby — who got caught in the middle of all that, by the way, and she’s probably exhausted. You coulda just let it go, ya know.” I’m still really uncomfortable but I’m in it now.
Raises his eyebrow. “So you think she was a-wrong and I was a-right?” He wants to verify this before he makes his next move.
“Totally. But you could have been The Bigger Guy. Did it feel good to yell at her like that – in front of all of us – because that was really upsetting.”
“No, it felt like shit. I don’t wanna do that to a-nobody.”
Time to crack a joke: “Well you won’t have to do that again because she won’t be coming back here for a coffee!” We laughed together.
We smile. Maybe we’re agreeing to disagree but we’re not fighting. He nods with respect. I nod with respect. The match is over. Curtain closes.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
You know what gave me the moxie to speak up? The countless other times that I didn’t speak up. When I let someone yell at someone else on the bus. Or witnessed rudeness in a restaurant. I’ll never forget the time I stood by and watched a teacher humiliate a fellow student. All those times when I walked away wishing I had the nerve.
When you speak up as a habit, you start to realize that you don’t need to have a result in mind to step forward. If you make it about winning, you’re less likely to stick your neck out.
Say what your Soul needs to say.