As I drove the other day I imagined I was flying an XWing. There were no other vehicles near me and I impulsively pressed the horn in rapid succession pretending I was blasting TIE fighters. It was a momentary impulse and shortly after blowing up my target I continued on my commute here on earth. I am an adult and that moment was a flash of my childhood overtaking me. While not many adults may admit to this kind of daydream playing, I am sure I am not the only one who has engaged in this behavior as an adult. Or if I am, then I really need to seek help because I find myself imagining existing in the Star Wars universe from time to time. It’s one memory from my childhood that still brings me joy. Yes I am a giant child.
What is it about the Star Wars universe that has brought so many of us adult children together? For me it provided a coping mechanism much needed after years of abuse, rape and beatings. There are moments in every Star Wars movie that bring me to tears. I have grieved when actors from the franchise have passed. I was so fortunate to have been able to design a special challenge coin for the Peter Mayhew Foundation at Peter’s request, and was so excited when he sent me a signed photograph for helping the foundation. I was also so happy to have interviewed David Prowse for a radio station I worked at, and again was given a signed photo. Their characters were so important to me in my day to day imaginary adventures I went on from an eight year old victim to adult survivor.
More recently I have been enjoying the Mandalorian series. Though it is set in a galaxy far far away, it feels as though there is a striking similarity to the world today. Din Djarin has to carefully navigate between two diametrically opposed orders – the Imperial remnant and the New Republic. Careful to not take sides, his heart ultimately guides his actions. I feel as though our world is polarizing into two factions much like the republic and the empire. We are being forced to either fight for democracy or give in to authoritarianism, and it has been an exhausting few years. The increasing anti-education anti-science movement has demonstrated how easily humans are manipulated into politicizing the simplest things. Since the pandemic has curtailed how we interact, I find myself increasingly wishing to be off-world hanging out with my favourite Wookiee, or even assisting Grogu in finding his Jedi mentors. It’s not that I am ignoring the events and pressing issues around me, it’s that I long for the coming together of our world. Good and evil can be argued as simply opposing points of view, yet when people wish to maintain status quo or increase their wealth at the health and expense of others, I find it difficult to comprehend how those who hurt others can even remotely justify their actions. So my happiness comes when I have those moments of escaping to a world a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
I have seen many random acts of kindness throughout 2020. People paying it forward for others. Unfortunately, I have also witnessed many acts of selfishness and cruelty from others to those who provide our privilege purchases. What the heck is a privilege purchase? What I mean is those treats we buy for ourselves to perk our day. Specifically, I am referencing the corner coffee shop, Tim Hortons, or Starbucks.
I can only imagine the stress that the small independent coffee shop owners are going through throughout the pandemic as they struggle to pay staff and make ends meet with limited assistance from local and regional governments. The larger chains have it a bit easier with franchise money and interests helping those doors remain open. It’s the employees I see as the ones who are struggling through this time. Yes it’s great they have jobs and have work, but at what cost to their emotional and mental health? This is where we can all step in as a community and help.
Social media is full of examples of people at their worst. The people caught on video freaking out over having to wear a mask, inconvenienced by rules they believe they are allowed to break as it should not apply to them because they are somehow special. Well, we are all in this together and we must all do better with each other.
I have stood waiting for my coffee and witnessed an irate customer argue with the minimum wage barista why the rules don’t apply to them, why they are “exempt” from following social distancing guidelines, and why wearing a mask infringes on their “rights” inside a privately-owned business. Most of the time I stand in silence with other masked customers as the tantrum plays out. Sometimes it ends with the “hurt” customer storming out of the store vowing vengeance against the owners, the barista and calling those of us in masks “sheep” as they “won’t live in fear”. Sometimes it ends with the irritated customer throwing their coffee or tea at the plexiglass or knocking over a garbage can on their way out. Sometimes it ends in violence. I’ve seen these irritated individuals push teens out of their frustration. I have seen employees break down in tears because of an adult bully not able to control their feelings. Is this what we are to accept?
And yet, what do I do in these times when my comfort is infringed upon. Sometimes I turn away. I look down. I look away. I pull out my phone and pretend I am doing something important while other humans bully and humiliate other humans trying to do their best during a pandemic. Sometimes I think about how the characters in Star Wars would react. Sometimes.
Sometimes I call it out. It usually results in the person who has been verbally attacking a young employee turning to swear at me. I am lucky that I am a larger male, as my physical bearing can be intimidating. As a survivor of abuse, however, I really do not handle confrontation well. Even as strong as I am, I do my best to avoid confrontation. I tell myself that I don’t need to get involved because it’s not my battle. I tell myself I don’t know what that irritated person is going through, and maybe they are armed and potentially dangerous. And I rationalize my way out of getting involved. Yet sometimes I cannot. So, I speak out.
The thing is, at what point do I do my part to help others? When is enough enough? When do I go out of my comfort zone and call out poor social behaviour? When Do I show my support for the victim?
We can all claim we don’t know what that person who flipped out is going through. We can claim the pressure must be too much and they need to vent. I call that reasoning bullshit. What about that front-line worker? What about the daily choice they have to make to come to their work and serve us? What is it about a half-caf, triple whip, extra hot no foam chai latte with gooseberry sprinkles and an artisan etching of the mona lisa in the foam that gives us the right to be superior to those we order our treats from? Yes treats. No one can argue their coffee perk or snack is an essential item. The point is, how come we immediately try to justify the actions of someone who snapped? What about the emotional and mental health of those who have to take it from rude people on a daily basis?
Months ago, my son quit his service job because the stress of the pandemic was too much. Too many rude customers had chipped away his mental health. He dreaded going to work, and on top of it, he was worried about his own personal health and potential exposure to the virus. I don’t blame him. We were lucky that we did not rely upon his working to help us make ends meet. How many of us have that luxury? I am thankful for that.
For me a trip to the coffee shop is a perk. It’s a treat after having to go out and buy essential items. It’s not essential that I have my over-priced coffee. I don’t do it daily. I know I shouldn’t do it as it’s not a “must-have” item. It’s a small reward to break up the humdrum of pandemic daily routine. I know when I enter a shop I am following their rules. I am a guest in their space. I respect them for what they are doing to make my day slightly less routine.
I am not asking for people to put themselves at risk when potentially stepping up for others. I am asking for more compassion. It’s something we all need – now more than ever.
We can get through this. Don’t be a jerk to those trying their best to do their jobs. If you cannot be nice, don’t go into the places to pick up your treats. Expect delays. Expect rules to be followed. Expect to play by the rules. And if you have a valid medical reason why you cannot wear a mask, wear a face shield. If you have a valid medical reason why you cannot do that, then maybe you should not be out doing those things anyway.
We all need to do our part. Ask yourself, “what would Luke Skywalker do? What would Obi-Wan do?” Just don’t ask “What would Chewbacca do?” as we all know Wookiees are known to pull arms off of people and that…well, that would be just disarming.
Stay well. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. May the Force be with you.
And if you are enjoying a coffee as you have read this, may the froth be with you too.
This is the way.