Making Friends 2.0

NYE2008
Photo by Gaby Germaine

This photo was taken at a New Year’s Eve party to ring in 2009 in NYC. TEN years ago. Geez, Louise.

I’m actually not an incredibly social creature. Parties are fun, and I bring my own energy when I can. Usually I make the rounds to chat with individuals or small groups, instead of busting all the moves in the middle of the dance circle. But I do like to dance, and I’ll dance if the music calls, but after the chatting and dancing, I gotta get home and decompress.

I made some really good friends in NYC. And I liked spending time with them outside of the LDS social scene, which wasn’t really my thing. I mean, this is partly why I defected from a singles ward to a family ward. People met people and dated people and broke up with people and started over again. That nonsense didn’t appeal to me. I did like going on dates. I liked talking with individuals and a few people at a time, but yowza, it could still be a lot. Because people are different. And sometimes I needed a head’s up to prepare for certain personalities. Maybe you know what I mean.

When I returned to BYU in 2010, all I wanted was to keep my head down, finish my work, and finally graduate. Which I did, for the most part. But a weird, funky thing happened, called Making Friends. And I loved spending time with my new friends when I could. We went to concerts and readings and film screenings. I went to Senegal for five weeks with some of them. And we still hang out, long after graduation.

But we all have our own lives now, doing our own thing with jobs and relationships and whatever our goals are. And we try to get together when there’s an overlapping break in our lives. Most of the time that results in doing something at our house, which I don’t mind. The fewer places I have to drive, the better.

Man, I sound like a grumpy hermit. I promise I’m a real sweetheart, though. Promise.

For a while in my 30s it seemed that I’d reached my limit on good friends, and I would shrug off any opportunities to establish new meaningful relationships. But then it occurred to me that I was depriving myself of new perspectives and influences and chances to grow, and that maybe I was depriving someone else of a friendship with me.

That sounds conceited.

But I like making friends, and I do try hard to be a good friend. And being a good friend is something our daughter needs to see as much of as possible. We don’t have to be especially social or outgoing to be a friend. I have to work at making friends. Maybe it will come more naturally to Z. I’ve been a jerk to a lot of people in the past, and I’ve been trying to make up for that. I’ve met some really cool new people in the past few years, and it’s been fun getting to know them. They’ve become special to me.

All the socializing we’ve done throughout the holidays has made me grateful to be surrounded by people who accept me as I am. New and old friends alike. They don’t force me to talk if I don’t feel like talking. They let me listen and observe and learn. They let me hang out inside my own head until I’m ready to interact more fully. They get my sarcasm that often borders on biting wit. They are patient. They love me without judgment. They encourage me to become better.

I’m working on doing the same for them.

Tuning Out to Tune In

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There is enough noise in the world already.

From 2003 to 2009, I lived in New York City with 8 million people. Lights, traffic, construction, music, strangers everywhere. All the time.

Surprisingly it was easy to get lost and become invisible in that environment. It was easy not to be seen. It was easy to turn the noise to static and drown out my surroundings. If I wanted to be seen or heard, I could emerge from the sensory sludge, reach out to friends, go see some live music and chat up a stranger, go to church and smile at familiar faces.

The beginning of my time in NYC social media had just started getting its footing. I’d started blogging there. I jumped on the Twitter and Facebook bandwagons. In addition to the maelstrom in the streets, I felt the outside world invading my home. It would be a sea we’d all be learning to navigate.

For some reason tuning out the internet influences wasn’t as easy. They were ever present; so easy just to wake up the computer and find myself staring at the screen hours later. Sometimes I was justifiably enthralled, but other times I truly wasted time cramming my noggin with nonsense and noise. It was easy to get lost, but sometimes more difficult to emerge from that dimension to interact with actual humans for quality time. Solid connections. Real relationships.

And now, when I’m in a much slower-paced part of the world, in a pretty chill area of Utah–we live next to horses and sheep, for crying out loud–the internet manages to pound on my brain. What news? What gossip? What music? What bad information? MUST CONSUME ALL OF IT.

Except I mustn’t do anything, but moderate and be conscious of which influences enter my home. Which is especially important to the very impressionable mind under the stewardship of me and Reilly. That little girl absorbs everything. And while she can’t convey all that she consumes, it’s there, just percolating, waiting to manifest in who knows what way.

How do I do this? And how do we do this as a family? A few actions that work for us:

  • I always manage to find some time during the day for absolute quiet, where I can have time to sort my thoughts. Or just take a few deep breaths. For Z, it’s nice to not have a lot of stimuli around for a few minutes and just let her talk. Sometimes the best we can do is the car ride home from daycare. I’ll turn down the radio and ask a few basic questions, and let her think without expecting an answer. What did you do at school? Did you play with the teacher?
  • A huge one for me lately has been physical activity. Exercise clears my mind, and those endorphins make me feel great. We try to encourage physical activity with Z as much as we can. When winter limits our options, we take her to different play areas at different malls, or even fast food places. Give that girl a slide and some space to run, and she’s happy as a clam.
  • Finally, there’s bedtime. This ritual usually ends with us snuggling, watching the night light, and Z talking to herself, and me singing a few nursery rhymes. Her voice is the furthest thing from noise to my soul (except at other times of the day when it’s screaming or whining, then I want to pull all of my hair out SERIOUSLY), and sometimes I’m lucky enough to listen to her happy jabbering fade into deep, sleepy breaths.

There are things that a lot of parents also do: enable actual internet filters, set timers on screen time, help count to 10 during a meltdown/tantrum. Those are definitely helpful, and kudos to all parents doing what works for them. I do other things on my own, as well: Find time to read, limit time on the internet; limit news consumption. It’s nice to find moments to breathe, to appreciate beauty in its many forms, to be able to separate the noise from the music. These moments help me to focus even more on what’s important, to tune in to clearer frequencies.

Talk in Church

On July 30 2017, Reilly and I spoke in Church. I’ve decided to post my talk here for posterity.  And kicks. You’ll see that I spent the first third of the talk introducing us, since we are relatively new in our ward. I was pretty lighthearted and included some jokey inflections in my voice. Then I got a little more serious and decided to share more of myself, being just vague enough about my imperfections as well as admitting (vaguely) some of my struggles. If I spoke quickly enough, this talk would have been under 10 minutes, but I applied a nice cadence and switched up tempos throughout, so it ended up being closer to 15 minutes. Enjoy. Or not. 

Good morning. I am May Ryan. My handsome, smart, selfless, and sort of muscley and strong husband is Reilly Ryan. Reilly works at Diamond Fork Jr High in Spanish Fork, teaching 8th grade English. I work at a content and publishing company in Sugarhouse, maintaining a cancer diagnosis app. We’ve been married for five years and we have a 3yr old daughter named Z. We have been in the ward for 7.5 months, and we really love it here.

As more of an introduction, Reilly and I met in a Provo singles ward in August 2011. I was walking home from dinner at a friend’s house and happened upon ward prayer in my neighborhood cul-de-sac. I was new in the ward. Earlier that day at church someone had invited me over for a potluck, but I couldn’t remember where it was, and I wanted to check it out, even though I had just eaten.

While I’m not the most social person and I usually didn’t attend ward prayer, I needed to find out where this potluck was, but not because of the food. I was single, and because I was in a new ward, I had resolved to make myself try harder at getting to know people, even though large groups are intimidating.

I stepped into the crowd and asked a random person about the potluck. She said she didn’t know anything about it, but she pointed and said I could probably ask that bald guy over there. I didn’t see where she had pointed, so I approached the first bald guy I saw. That was Reilly.

We stood in the middle of that cul-de-sac, and I tuned everybody else out to focus on our conversation. I found out that we were both English majors. He graduated from the University of Utah, and I would be graduating that following April from BYU. We chatted about books and movies and music, and I was excited to talk with someone with whom I have so much in common.

Needless to say, Reilly Ryan thwarted my Sunday plans. During our chat, going to the potluck was the furthest thing from my mind. But it couldn’t have ended better.

We got married June 1, 2012. Our daughter Z was born in April 2014, when we were both in the middle of grad school. Our life together has been a marvelous journey so far.

Part of that journey includes speaking to you in church today. Time will tell if this experience ends up being marvelous or not. I’ll try to be optimistic.

In our remarks, Reilly and I will address the question, How will faith and obedience fortify me in today’s world? We will draw upon a talk by Elder L. Whitney Clayton from this past April’s General Conference called, “Whatsoever He Saith unto You, Do It.” This is a wonderful talk that has helped me focus my thoughts, and I pray that the Spirit will guide my words in their meaning and message.

Elder Clayton begins his talk with the story of the wedding at Cana in John chapter 2. Verses 1-11 read:

1 And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:

2 And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.

3 And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.

4 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

5 His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

6 And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

7 Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

8 And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

9 When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,

10 And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

11 This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

Elder Clayton points out that we recognize this story because it demonstrates Jesus’ power early on. It’s his first miracle. But as in most scripture stories, there can be multiple layers and lessons, and in this story, the lesson we focus on here regarding faith and obedience is in Mary’s instructions to the servants: “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.”

Mary’s confidence reminds us of who she is and how she came to give such straightforward direction. Mary is the mother of Jesus. As many parents with their children, Mary knows her son more than anyone. She knows his quirks, his tendencies. She knows that he is sinless, he is perfect. The Joseph Smith Translation of Matthew 25:3 states, “he spake not as other men, neither could he be taught; for he needed not that any man should teach him.”

When Mary says to the servants, “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it,” she’s saying she knows of the Savior’s divinity, his ability to save our souls. She’s saying that He is someone, the only one, we should have faith in.

How will faith and obedience fortify me in today’s world? The fourth Article of Faith says the first principle of the gospel is faith IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST. Not just general faith. Faith in anything else will not sufficiently equip me to handle today’s seemingly numerous and relentless trials.

What is it about today’s world that makes life so difficult? What present challenges make faith and obedience especially crucial? We have many examples in the Bible and Book of Mormon of people struggling and exercising faith during those earlier dispensations. We have stories from early church history of saints facing different difficulties. We can gain inspiration from reading about all of these experiences. We can liken the principles taught to our lives. We know that we live in a unique time, and since the topic specifies today’s world, I have reflected on the years I have lived on the earth and some of the particular temptations that have tested my faith and obedience.

In the 80s, my dad introduced my mom to the church, and she was baptized when I was 6, and I got baptized when I was 8. I lived most of my childhood during the 80s in Florida, where I had a fascination with fire, and I remember taking books of matches from my house to the nearby playground and gathering kindling to start fires to watch them burn. These were always small fires that I extinguished pretty quickly, and this phase didn’t last very long. I’m not sure, but that was probably because I got caught and got in trouble. I conveniently don’t remember.

In the ’80s also emerged of MTV, which was really enticing with the adding of often spiritually toxic videos to already bad lyrics and a good beat and catchy melody. Media of all types had started to sneak their way into my mind.

The ’90s immersed my teenage and early adulthood years with increased intensity of what I was exposed to in the 80s. More tv, more music, more movies. Peer pressure invading my mind, I learned things I would have never seen or heard about in my home or from my family.

For the most part, I was a very faithful and obedient child and teenager. My parents and church family taught and supported me well. My friends were good and decent and wholesome people. I was a good student, graduating 2nd in my high school class, and I was accepted to BYU. I went to mutual. I went to early morning seminary. I earned my YW in Excellence Award. I kept going to church when my parents went inactive for a time.

It’s so weird to look back at the ‘80s and ‘90s and say these were simpler times, but the 2000s brought the seriousness of adulthood to my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in college, much less as a career, so I took a detour and moved with friends to New York City. I spent almost 7 years there. The entire world in all its aspects unfolded itself to me in that one place. The accumulation and amplification of every temptation I had been exposed to growing up and more was there. Furthermore in the 2000s was the full unleashing of the internet and the myriad potential ways it could derail someone like me from living the gospel.

There were bad influences in NYC, but I remember most fondly all the goodness it offered, too. I made some of my best friends there. The church is strong there. Members there struggle and fight, probably a lot like members everywhere do. There were times I wavered in my faith, but I always knew the gospel was true, and that my life had purpose. After trying to attend a singles ward for several months, I decided my time would be better served and I would feel more comfortable in a family ward. I served in the nursery. I served as a ward missionary. I also taught early morning seminary for two years. When I was there, serving others kept me on the right path.

And so we come to this decade. We could probably discuss and make a list of ways the world has changed in the last 7-10 years. Elder Clayton, in his talk, tells a story of speaking to a young bishop that spent several hours a week counseling members of his ward. He said, “The problems that members of his ward faced … were those faced by Church members everywhere—issues such as how to establish a happy marriage; struggles with balancing work, family, and Church duties; challenges with the Word of Wisdom, with employment, or with pornography; or trouble gaining peace about a Church policy or historical question they didn’t understand.”

This bishop often advised his ward members to “get back to simple practices of faith, such as studying the Book of Mormon, paying tithing, and serving in the Church with devotion.” He said, “Frequently, however, the members’ response to their bishop was one of skepticism: They said, ‘I don’t agree with you, Bishop. We all know those are good things to do. We talk about those things all the time in the Church. But I’m not sure you’re understanding me. What does doing any of those things have to do with the issues I’m facing?’”

That could have been me a number of times in the last 10 years talking to that bishop. I have questions and issues that I wrestle with. Most of the time they are about people I love and their relationship with the Church. My spirituality ebbs and flows, and when I am in the lower moments, it can be hard to know or remember what to do.

Elder Clayton says faith and obedience go hand in hand, that obedience is an act of faith. He says that those who obey in “seemingly little ways are blessed with faith and strength that go far beyond the actual acts of obedience themselves and, in fact, may seem totally unrelated to them. It may seem hard to draw a connection between the basic daily acts of obedience and solutions to the big, complicated problems we face. But they are related.”

Obedience is an act of faith in Christ, and the more we obey, the more we are blessed with faith. The more faith we have, the stronger we are to obey, even in the face of today’s barrage of mega-challenges. Christ can do that for us. He can fortify us. He can save us.

Reflecting upon the story of the wedding of Cana, perhaps the answer to the question, How will faith and obedience fortify me in today’s world? is another question: How do I come to know Christ the way Mary does? To answer that question, I wish I had something deeper than the little things, the “primary answers,” but it’s the little things that are truly profound and lead to growth. They set the foundation for progressing toward keeping higher covenants. Being diligent in my obedience as a child prepared me for many difficulties I faced growing up. Being faithful and obedient now motivate me to keep going to church, remind me to count my blessings, and reassure me the Lord knows my concerns and will provide the answers I need in his time.

“Whatsoever he saith, do it.” To apply that bishop’s counsel of studying the Book of Mormon, paying tithing, and serving in the Church with devotion is a lot like pouring water in those stone vessels, not really understanding how that will result in the best wine. That’s where I am right now. If I do these things, I don’t understand how that will resolve my personal struggles. But I do know that these acts of obedience are an exercise of faith in my Savior. These acts will enable me to know him better.

And I believe that the better I know Jesus Christ, the stronger my desire will be to obey his teachings. This is what I was taught as a child; and because we are uncertain and nervous about the world our daughter will grow up in, this is what Reilly and I will continue to teach our family. No matter our struggles, if we can establish little habits of faith, if we can fill the pots with water to the brim, the Lord will somehow touch our lives, perform a true miracle and fortify our souls, and bring out the best in us.

A Poem of Tomorrow for Today

In late 2011 WS Merwin visited BYU and read some of his poetry to students in the JSB auditorium. He said that after 9/11 books of poetry could not stay on the shelves. He said people needed poetry in those dark times. It helped them cope and understand and feel understood and less lonely. It reached deep and endless. It touched hollow and unrelenting. It was like pockets of fresh air displacing the billows of dust and sorrow and hate.

I was in a poetry class the semester of Merwin’s visit, trying to write poetry; trying to get it. Trying to learn things way beyond my grasp from my immensely talented classmates. It was a wonderful class. The semester happened to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. I wasn’t there, but I have friends who were. Today always makes me mournful, melancholy sinking my gut. This poem was my attempt to express an aspect of that tragic event.

It is 9/12/11

nine twelve eleven
nine one-two one-one
as if my fingers
swollen and sweaty
slipped while dialing
and starting over never crossed my mind.

No one will come
until I hang up
and think more carefully
to push
finger pads to keypad
with motions that should be automatic.

Full Circle

Before I was an English major, I was a microbiology major. I was going to work in a lab and do research.

While I was a microbiology major, I took a really long break in my education to figure out what I wanted to do. I spent nearly seven years in New York City, and I found exhilaration and solace in writing.

I wanted to write. Maybe with my science background, maybe I could do science writing.

In 2010 I returned to BYU as a nontraditional (read: old) student who was given a stern warning to FINISH SCHOOL; changing my major to English after almost having a hard science degree was peculiar. But I hadn’t kept up my studies in NYC, and I’d have to retake many classes anyway, and I’d end up being there at least three semesters. I told the Humanities advisor I’d be done in four or five. They let me stay.

Five semesters and three terms later, I have no regrets. I took my time, got good grades, earned a scholarship, studied abroad in Senegal, and minored in French. During my last two semesters I met another English major who had graduated from the University of Utah. Nearly a month and a half after graduation, we got married.

A year and a half passes, and my husband was already a semester into his Master’s program at BYU. I was preparing to begin a Master’s program in Library Science at Emporia State University. At the orientation several library professionals spoke to my cohort, and the one who stood out most was a medical librarian. Throughout my program I have focused on medical libraries. I completed a practicum (internship) at the Eccles Health Sciences Library at the U; and I have been volunteering at the Primary Children’s Hospital Library. All of this experience has enhanced my studies, better prepared me for the work force, and built a solid network of colleagues.

When I had about a year left in the program, I started applying for jobs. When positions require experience and you have none, it can be a little frustrating. As I was finishing my practicum in the spring, an opportunity arose for working in a medical library. The position didn’t require an MLS, so I decided to use my time in the practicum and volunteering, as well as my time in the MLS program, as experience. Other requirements matched my skills acquired from other jobs, and position seemed like a great fit. The posting attracted a lot of applicants, and the hiring manager interviewed me over the phone before calling me in for a group interview, which was intense. I shined and dazzled among other qualified prospects.

I made the cut and went in the next day to interview by myself with the hiring panel. And it seemed things were looking up until they weren’t. The timing had turned bad, and other circumstances had proven inauspicious, so I pulled myself out of the running. While this decision was for the best, I learned so much during that interview process, and people from Primary Children’s and Eccles offered me wonderful advice and encouragement along the way.

About a week and a half after the final interview, I received some information about another posting. It wasn’t for working in a medical library, but it requires skills gained in an MLS program and searching in medical databases, so I inquired about the position. My contact requested my CV, and about two weeks later, she asked if we could speak on the phone.

That’s when I told her I was a microbiology major. And when I spoke to her supervisor on the phone, I recounted the same experience. And when I met with the two of them a few days after that, my hard science background came up again. They took me through the workflow, which helped me clear some cobwebs from the sciency sections of my brain. They asked me which I preferred: hard science or information science. It wasn’t one of those psychoanalytical questions to make interviews nervewracking (“Tell me about a time you failed/didn’t complete something/didn’t get along with someone…”); it was a question out of simple curiosity, and I told them I couldn’t decide. I loved them both.

Gosh, what’s a good metaphor here. The skills I gained as a humanities major will always be the ones important to finding work and solving problems. Close reading–critical thinking, analysis–and communication. And then the more specific training I receive during my MLS program helps with technology I will be using with the job. And then, THE thing that may have solidified the deal for me is the area in which I do not have a degree but have always been deeply interested. And wanted to do more with. This is one of the coolest opportunities ever. There’s no metaphor here.

After officially completing his thesis in June, my husband is enjoying his summer. He graduates August 16, and we’re all very excited. On the other hand, my summer semester is intense, and after spending daytime with my family, I stay up late doing homework, finally able to empathize with Reilly’s late nights over the past two years. I’ll have only three credit hours in the fall, and then I’ll be done with my Master’s program.

The baby will be the only one in the family without a Master’s degree. Aww.

After my interview two weeks ago, onboarding is complete. The company is great. They’re assigning me a laptop. I don’t even know if I have an official job title, but I will be maintaining a database for a pathology tool used in diagnostic immunohistochemistry for cancer. It’s a thing: look it up.

Also: I get to work from home.

I begin August 3.

Birthday Man

During your first birthday as a husband, we waited for Into the Woods to begin at Shakespeare in the Park at Central Park in New York City. We sat there while it poured rain until a couple behind us held their giant golf umbrella over us to provide a little relief. We sat for at least an hour and watched sheets of rain sparkle in the stage lights until they announced a rainout. We walked on Broadway in the 70-streets in our wet clothes until we found a place that served cake and hot chocolate. We ate cake and drank hot chocolate. We were two months into being married. You were helping me move my stuff out of storage to Utah. I was excited about sharing so many more birthdays with you.

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Today is your 3rd birthday as a husband, your first as a father.

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We began your birthday celebration last night at dinner. A little party, just the three of us. You and I talked while our daughter sat quietly and watched us until she started trying to stand, which turned into rolling over in her carrier. Then you held her while I ate. I watched you with her across the table from me and thought, man, how did I end up with this amazingness in my life?

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You have spent the last four months getting up in the middle of the night to rock our daughter. You’ve stayed home and fed her and changed diapers and sang to her and taught her to blow raspberries. I think she understands the time you spend with her more deeply than we know. You are totally killing it as a father, which not only inspires me but makes me ever so grateful that you’re my husband. And I know our daughter is grateful that you’re her dadda.

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Tonight, you have class, and that’s okay. I hope you have a wonderful and special day with lots of laughs and smiles and memories, and we look forward to more fun birthdays with you.

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Boarding the Frontrunner

Monday afternoon I stood on the Frontrunner platform, waiting for the train home. The train arrived, and as the doors opened, I stood to the side, because I have a very useful habit of courtesy when it comes to public transportation.

I waited for any deboarding passengers while I watched two patrons get on without waiting. The first passenger was an Asian-looking man, and the second passenger was a Caucasian-looking woman. When the man boarded first, the woman called out to him, “Hey, ladies first!” The man briefly looked over his shoulder and mumbled that he was sorry. Then the woman replied, “That’s okay; it’s the American culture.”

Maybe it was because the news of inaccurately racist comments toward the newly crowned Miss America was fresh on my mind (for instance, instead of hearing spelling bee jokes [which is somehow less offensive to me because Indian Americans have dominated spelling bees recently, and I love it], all I read were terrorist/Muslim remarks) that this little scenario rubbed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s my slightly progressive way of thinking where I never assume “ladies first”; there are times that I’ll let men on the train before me just because I feel like being kind.

I don’t know anything about these two individuals. It’s interesting that the woman assumed the man wasn’t American, when it could be that the man just didn’t see her, or that he didn’t feel like being kind at that moment, or any number of reasons. It’s also interesting that with whatever assumptions the woman made, she felt prompted to “teach” the man about American culture, which: is this type of etiquette/courtesy a strictly American thing? Why was what the woman said so disparaging to me? Maybe the woman was trying to demonstrate to the man that she was trying to be more understanding, that she was trying to make up for yelling at him.

Am I assuming American exceptionalism where it wasn’t there, and maybe I should just conclude that the woman was trying to be more understanding of someone who wasn’t like her? Do I assume that she thought she was extending a kindness when she did not know its core was offensive (then, offensive according to whom)? Is that closer to the “American” culture?

At the same time, if I had an experience where someone had not observed an “American” custom with me, I would try to be more understanding and think that person perhaps came from a different culture.  Maybe that person wasn’t raised that way, but that doesn’t mean the behavior isn’t necessarily American. And then I’m still left wondering what counts as American, and what doesn’t.

Therein lies so many more assumptions.