“We see ourselves as we really are, and knowing ourselves we cannot condemn the other. We remember with a blush the public sin that made us mortal. We recognize with dismay the private sin that curls within us in fear of exposure. Then the whole world changes when we know ourselves. We gentle it. The fruit of self-knowledge is kindness. Broken ourselves, we bind tenderly the wounds of the other.”   ~Joan Chittister, from the Illuminated Life


When I was a young person I was mean. Vicious, at times. I wanted to say that, “I wasn’t very nice,” because that seems easier to say and maybe easier for you to hear. “Not very nice,” I imagine, has a better slot in the pigeon holes we assign people–that is, it’s a little higher up than just plain, “Mean.” I have an explanation for the anger that drove me to be so mean, but I know that if you were on the receiving end of my temper, my mouth, my attitude (or the person in your life who was just like me) it just sounds like excuses. A friend once said to me that he doesn’t believe that people really change, I know that isn’t true. I’m not mean anymore.

I work in pharmacy. That has nothing to do with being mean, though not being mean certainly helps me get along with my co-workers and improves my customer service skills. I have resting bitch face, though that’s not the same as being mean. But I digress. In pharmacy, every single drug belongs to a class that, among many other things, indicates how carefully they are kept track of. The “controls” are the drugs that are likely to be diverted or abused. Drugs for pain usually. From the way they’re ordered, to received, to dispensed, to disposed, they’re treated differently. They’re tracked carefully. They’re counted daily, double counted. They matter. Not that the Prozacs and amoxicillins don’t matter too, but let’s face it, they’re not Vicodin or morphine! When one of these tablets is broken, as will sometimes happen as they are bottled or shipped, they are marked as such, set aside and sent back with packing slips and other documentation sent to government buildings in Philly. Not a Prozac though. A broken Prozac can be tossed into the Hazardous Waste bin and picked up every three months with the other, not-Vicodin or morphine tablets and capsules. It’s all about the class they belong to.

So why am I giving you the Pharmacy Operations lesson? Because of Teddi.

A few days ago a post appeared on my news feed that had been reposted from the area paper from where I grew up. The news story was about a woman who had allegedly broken into a house while the owner was there sleeping. She stole some cash, some cans of beer and some salami sandwiches. Now, under other circumstances, I may have laughed at the absurdity of that. The cash amount was $30. Thirty fucking dollars. I haven’t spent $30 today only because I haven’t left the house with my wallet. Six to nine cans of Budweiser, they were that specific, I guess they’re looking down the line at compensation. And the salami sandwiches. Like I said, I would’ve laughed. But I didn’t. Because, in what I’m guessing was the picture they took of her at the police station, there she was. It was Teddi. She was looking right into the camera, right out of the photo, out of my iPad screen and looking right at me. I didn’t see anything remotely funny. I saw sad, and desperate, and hopeless and at-the-end-of-the-road tired.

And then, the comments. Oh my god. People just piled on. I get it. It’s so tempting, so easy to say whatever shit that comes to mind from so far away. Being electronically removed makes it easier to express our judgments. Maybe we say something because it’s funny or to show how clever we can be. It’s harder to resist. It’s harder yet to say nothing, or, to go against the grain and come from a different perspective. And to be sure there were some who did that for this post about Teddi. They remembered her from childhood, they offered love and support, they warned that we needed to be careful in case her kids happened to read the post, and our comments. They tried to understand. And I don’t know, maybe the person who posted it had been the man she stole from. Or his child, or friend from church. Maybe they had been on the receiving end of something that she represented; so even though my first thought was, “why would you put this out here for no other apparent reason than to shame her?” I have to admit that I just don’t know the whole story.

“Yes Susan, but why were you talking about the drugs?” Because I think this is what we do to people too. I think that what class they’re in determines how they’re treated when they’re broken. If they matter, according to whatever standards we hold up to measure them by; that is, if they have the good fortune of beauty, money, intelligence, fame, education, or being from the right family, we’ll acknowledge their brokenness. We’ll set them apart. Document it. Treat them carefully. But if they don’t meet the standards, well, then the Hazardous Waste bin is the best they can hope for.

It just made me sad. Her picture. Seeing her like that. Seeing what had happened to her. And the truth, really, is that could’ve been me: Different decisions. Different choices. Different mom. Different class. But I have the good fortune of being treated like morphine.