Recently, when I was out shopping a woman spoke very rudely to me. This is the place where the story that follows could be all about how the person’s actions were wrong. It would have been easy to demonize her. I could dissect the behavior and ask others to join me in ridiculing and shaming the other person’s actions but her behavior isn’t what interested me. It was mine. After all, the only person I could control in this situation was myself. I thought about being snarky back, but then I really looked at the woman. She was an older lady who looked harried and angry but she also seemed sad. It made me wonder what was going on in her life. I smiled at her and just moved on with my chore.
This time of year can be very difficult as we all know. We have an abundance of parties, the perfect gifts to purchase, cookies to make, and family obligations. Its rush, rush, rush with too little time for all we would like to do and very little rest.Sometimes it’s even more than that. I thought back six years. It was December and my mother was dying. She was suffering from frontal temporal lobe dementia and lymphoma. This type of dementia meant she was losing her ability to find words and she seemed unable to think clearly. She'd been through a round of chemo but although the doctors thought the cancer was under control I had my suspicions that they were wrong. I found myself in grocery stores, the post office, in my car, worrying and distracted. Those who didn’t already know me had no way of understanding what I was going through. I probably just seemed like a distracted, sometimes angry female easily prone to crying. Pain and anger often go hand in hand. I was angry at a disease I couldn't understand or control. It was taking something from me that I desperately didn't want to lose.
Sometimes when I was at home I would snap at my husband. I'm sure he felt like I was attacking him but instead of biting me back he was kind. He spoke to me quietly with respect and tried to comfort me. It would have been so easy to snap back but he saw that I was fragile and on the edge. I wouldn’t be able to take it. I was so grateful for his compassion. He knew what was going on but it isn’t always that simple for us when we run into discourteous and disrespectful people we don't know as we go through our day.This holiday season, I decided to try to remember that kindness my husband showed me and to try to bestow it on the next person who needs it, as I did with the woman at the store. I've been trying to remember that we all have difficulties in life, and perhaps that ill-mannered person who crossed my path is going through something I don’t know about. A sick child or parent, lost job, abusive spouse, car accident--it could be anything. Like my mother used to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Then came a problem with my phone. Could I remember my new advice and be patient with someone when I had a problem? After all, it wasn't the customer service representative's fault I had a problem. I wrote Calm and Nice in large print on a piece of paper in front of me. This was a more difficult task. I get highly frustrated with technology when it suddenly does naughty behavior that now I have to solve. At least it seems to me to misbehave deliberately. A man came on the line and with a clearly logical tone asked if he could help me. This is where I tend to want to scream into the phone, "Yes, help me, this stupid phone doesn't work right," while slamming it against my desk. (I can attest here -- this rarely works with the phone or the representative). I looked down at my paper and took a deep breath, trying to state the most logical testament of my problem. He paused a moment and then I could hear typing. Every once in a while he would apologize for how long it was taking him to find the answer but after a bit he was able to tell me the fix. It was the byproduct of a recent update. I really couldn't complain--I like that my phone does nearly miraculous things like my email, games, facetime etc. and there is a payment for that privilege. At the end of the call I gratefully thanked the man on the other end and wished him a good day. I could feel the warm tone in his voice when he rang off. It was a good day.
I'm going to try to continue my streak of niceness. I won't be perfect. I've never been. I've said things I oughtn't, done things I shouldn't, and have had them haunt me when I've regretted it. But at least I'm going to try. In that one way maybe it will be a gift that won't be the wrong size. If I'm lucky, it will be returned or regifted.