It was a typical weekday morning. I had barreled through my morning routine, walked down the street to Ashby station and waited on the next eastbound MARTA train on my way to work.
Once aboard, I had zoned out for the first stop and a half when I noticed a ragged, middle-to-older aged man looking at me wide-eyed. Thinking he was just a little off, I started to shift my focus. Just then, he brought his arm up and pointed to my face, almost stammering, “Your face… you cut your face… you cut it bad.”
It was that weathered, almost whispered trepidation in addressing me that caused a part of my brain to freak out. Being in public with a hitherto unknown bloody face, however, my greater instinct was not making any more of a scene, so I freaked out inside only.
As I am wont to panic and hypochondriatize any possible adverse situation, I was proud of myself for not outwardly indulging his quiet panic. I immediately knew that shaving too fast and not sticking around for a thorough mirror check were the culprits. As dull as I knew my razor to be, I had rational doubts about how much blood loss was occurring. So I kept the panic to a minimum.
I tried to casually dab my face to verify his observation, and did get the red answer I was looking for. I debated over whether to use my phone as a mirror, and decided it would not do any good. I was only one stop away from Five Points, where there was a restroom. I could clean up there and be on my way.
The longest four minutes of my life ensued. It’s impossible to Enjoy the Ride when your face looks like an order of loaded fries. I sat there in frozen embarrassment—you know, the kind where you’re so mortified that it doesn’t even register—utter numbness. Then I power-walked off the train to the restroom, feeling the passing breeze clot the blood on my face.
Once at the sink, I wet my hands and smeared the dried and not-so-dried blood from my face and rinsed my hands off. (MARTA restrooms don’t have paper towels.) I checked the mirror; my face was clearly not bad enough to warrant an ominous whisper, and while I thanked the man for calling my attention to the issue, I was at the same time annoyed that he reacted the way he did. He really should have known how fragile I am.
You didn’t think I was going to treat you to an empty story with no moral, did you?
Of course not. The moral here is: don’t let anybody tell you about yourself. You are the greatest expert when it comes to the subject of you. Have confidence in this if nothing else.
In this instance, everything the man told me was 100% true. There was in fact blood on my face. I had in fact cut myself. It did look “bad.” It certainly didn’t look “good,” so I give him credit for “bad,” even though I found the assessment misleading.
Despite being true, what he said and how he said it might have led me to panic. What if somehow I was actually bleeding to death right there on the train? I once watched this episode of Six Feet Under where someone got a nosebleed and fell over dead on the spot. (I think that was the last episode I ever watched. That freaked me out for sure.)
But I knew myself. I knew what I had done (shaved too fast) and what the impact was (a little nick that had been leaking for 10-15 minutes by the time he told me about it) and so I had confidence that I would go check it out, clean it up, and move on with my day.
The helpful man’s reaction was much more about him and what he brought to the situation. He could have had an aversion to blood, or he could be one of those people who says everything dramatically, or he could have been having fun with me and was trying to freak me out. There was very little about the way he reacted that anything empirically to do with what had happened.
I’m not going to be presumptuous and say, “Always remember this!” Because you won’t. You and I will both go around beating ourselves up and getting worked up over how people treat us.
But—before you go off the deep end—remember at some point that you know you. Make decisions based on that confidence.
And more importantly—check the mirror each day before you face the world. Don’t let some random stranger freak you out if you can help it.