Written By: Lindsay Hurty
Sixth grade. I’m walking home from the bus stop…getting the mail…cars zooming by—we lived on a busy street. And I felt it. Out of nowhere. I was struck.
I looked over my right shoulder, and there, sliding down my navy Jansport backpack, was a Big Mac. An uneaten McDonald’s Big Mac. Someone from a passing car had thrown it at me. Splat.
That peach-colored sauce, shredded lettuce, the seeded bun. It was all there, sliding down my body.
I ran inside my house. Laughing, crying, stunned; laughing, crying, stunned. On repeat.
“Mom!” I shouted desperately. “I got hit by a Big Mac!?!” These words are most unexpected, to say and to hear. But the evidence spoke for itself.
I don’t remember what my mom said, but I do remember us vacillating between laughter, shock, embarrassment, anger then back to tear-filled giggles. Was it funny? Yes. Indeed, it was. Were my feelings hurt? Yes, they sure were. I was humiliated. Who else had driven by and seen me like that? Who all was laughing at my expense? …besides me and my mom?
So where is the line between laughing at yourself and not being okay with a humiliation?
I’ve been thinking about this invisible line a lot since watching this year’s Oscars—you know, the Oscars where Will Smith went onto the stage and smacked Chris Rock after he’d made a rude joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Will’s emotional (and violent) response to the comedian’s jab has garnered tremendous attention, world-wide. In a culture that seems eerily eager to cancel someone—anyone—based on singular moments in the scope of a grand life, the Will Smith incident is relevant for all of us to ponder.
This is not a piece on my opinion of Will Smith’s actions.
Instead, I’m most interested in the before part. The moments just before a non-life-threatening but (for sure) line-crossing and inappropriate action. The moment before telling a mean joke about someone’s physical appearance. The moment before responding to an insult with a physical altercation. The moment before throwing a Big Mac at a school girl from one’s car.
I imagine the Big Mac’rs in their car. Presumably, they’d just been to McDonald’s, which was about a mile up the road from my mailbox. And I imagine that as the passenger unwraps his afternoon snack, the driver says, “I dare you to hit that kid with your Big Mac.” Impulsively, the passenger imagines doing it, and accepts the challenge.
And then he does it. Unthinkably rude. But, still, impossibly funny. Funny like prank calls before Caller ID. Funny like Buddy getting resiliently hit by a taxi in Elf. Funny like viral reels of dogs on Instagram with human voiceovers.
The Big Mac’rs probably laughed hard in the aftermath, maybe even cried from laughter. Maybe even peed themselves a little. Because, let’s face it, it’s funny…in an anonymous sense.
And now, some 30 years later, I imagine that the Big Mac’rs are probably dads, maybe grandpas, and amidst their hardships of adulthood—because, let’s be real, life throws everyone some heavy stuff—they also have this funny story that they might tell in certain circles. Bullseye! “We hit the kid with a Big Mac during a drive-by dare!” A good story from two grown men about their rebellious days, void of consequences, from way back.
But who knows, maybe amidst the reminiscent laughter, they also cringe at the thought that on the other side of that backpack was an actual kid, maybe about the same age as their now-daughter or granddaughter. A child who got hit—out of nowhere and for no logical reason—by a flying saucer of humiliation and had to then deal with the mess, confront her raging adolescent embarrassment and become fearful thereafter of her walk home from the bus stop.
These days, someone would likely catch the incident on film. A quick snapshot might reveal the license plate. The Big Mac’rs would be forced to pay brutal legal consequences and a forever Google search stain with the media pick up of the story. I can see it: “Big Mac Attack: Men Arrested for Assaulting Child.” McDonald’s might sue them. Maybe. Who knows.
I suppose it all comes down to how we account for the experience of ‘the other.’ How we imagine not only the consequences of our actions for ourselves, but also the consequences of our actions for them; how our actions play out in the stories of others–the anonymous (or perhaps familiar) other in a given situation. Because there is always an other. As humans, we are far more tightly woven to each other in life’s container than we like to acknowledge.
It comes down to how able we are to ask ourselves in the moments before we act: What will my action mean for them?
Also, on the flip side, when we feel humiliated, it matters how we internalize the uncomfortable stuff, the weird stuff, the unexpected stuff. I can assure you, no one expects to be disgracefully hit with a Big Mac in public. AND, I’m glad the Big Mac’rs weren’t persecuted for an impulsive, albeit inappropriate, action that momentarily humiliated me. Was the incident a big deal? In my little life in sixth grade, it was. And yet, since then, I’ve inspired a lot of laughter with this anecdote.
So, it also comes down to how able we are to ask ourselves: What could my immediate hurt eventually become for me? Perhaps it’s not all so bad if we step aside from our reactionary emotions.
We all have stories. We all suffer. We all cause pain for others, whether or not we intend to.
The call is to recognize the humanity of each other; the call is also to make space for bad decisions; the call is also to be accountable for our actions; and ultimately, the call is to gracefully grow forward in the messy journey that we’re all on.
One big, messy journey and a lot of tiny beings walking on invisible lines.
Written By: Lindsay Hurty