On my way to work I stopped at the grocery store, heading directly to the salad bar, my habituated lunch choice. Once there, I noticed a woman standing a few feet from the earth-friendly paper boxes I needed. It looked as though she was simply waiting for her friend, who was a few feet from her at the bread counter.
I said, “Excuse me,” to her, paused momentarily, and then stepped between her and the much needed salad box. As I pulled the top box from the stack, she said, “Well, pardon me.” Accent on the WELL.
I felt the agitation in her voice. She was telling me I had rudely moved into her space. I held my breath and felt my own irritation with her as I recognized this as a choice point. How do I choose to respond? Do I apologize for my perceived affront or do I assert my intention? I took a moment.
I often base my decision, in these awkward moments, on my mood at the time. I am not proud of this method of determining my next move. I know I should base it on the highest good for all man and woman-kind. I should engage with her and explain myself. I should be nice. I should be relational. I should. I should.
Instead of what I should have done, I went with my tired, pissy and in-a-hurry mood. I responded with equal exasperation. I spoke over my shoulder to her, “I said excuse me.” Accent on the SAID.
She responded,”Well, I didn’t hear you.” Accent on the WELL, I DIDN’T HEAR YOU.
By this time I was half way down the first side of the salad bar. I had my spring mix, grape tomatoes, peas and was scooping-up some chick peas, answering her in my head, “Well, is it my job to make sure you hear me? How am I supposed to know you didn’t? Why didn’t you just move when you saw me headed for the salad boxes?”
I was working myself into a fit. How dare she!!!
Another choice point. Do I say any of this to her? Do I share my grumpy disposition further? Or do I save it for later when I need to I argue with Verizon about this months’ bill? I wasn’t sure I wanted to unload on a random woman at the salad bar.
As I was contemplating my next move and heaping coals on my defense, her friend came quietly up beside me. “Please let me apologize for my friends behavior,” she said, “she has dementia and this is not a good day for her.”
I was mortified with myself.
I looked this woman in the eye and told her it was really okay, I understood and thanked her for telling me.
I was ashamed. I was also extremely grateful I kept my indignation to myself; fully aware that my silence was not due to my niceness but to my indecisiveness.
I finished making my salad. Quietly. Humbly. I began to judge myself, telling myself what an awful person I am for being mean to a woman with dementia. Why couldn’t I just be nice? What was the big deal? So she said something snarky, couldn’t I have just risen above it, been my higher self?
As I moved toward the 10-items-or-less check out line, I stopped at the baked goods to bag a chocolate chip, pecan cookie, not that I deserved dessert after my bad behavior, and found myself standing next to the same two women. I overheard their loving interaction with each other. I was touched. I noticed how the woman that that approached me took care of her friend. They, too, were after something sweet.
In that moment of feeding our mutual sweet tooth’s, I felt our mutual humanness and fragility. I recognized how our humanity is sometimes the good news and other times the bad news.
I realized I can, or will, be my highest self…unless I am not. But, it is my job to take responsibility for both. Most of us are really trying doing our best. Everyday. Sometimes our best is lovely. Sometimes our best is not so great.
If I keep that in mind, I will be gentler with your humanness…as well as my own.