Jenn* was rude to me that morning. Gruff. She had a disdainful tone that I recognize from my kids. She’s only a little older than they are, really. Closer to their ages than mine, for sure. I walked up to her register with a smile and hello as I have dozens of times before, fully expecting her to respond in kind, as she does. Instead, a glare and a grumble.
I did the thing I do with grouchy acquaintances (unfortunately not my children) and poured on the kindness while getting out of her hair as quickly as possible.
Aw, sweetie, I thought, I hope your day gets better. I don’t know what’s going on, but sure hope it improves.
Somehow I walked away with more compassion and affection for her than I came with.
I think about the times I behave inappropriately in public. I hope I’m a little better at controlling it now than I was at twenty (at least in public), but examples abound. When I was roughly Jenn’s age, I was working at Walmart pharmacy and a lady came up to pay for her meds and a big ol’ stack of handkerchiefs. I commented chipperly, “Oh! Those are so fun! I imagine sewing them together into a quilt or something!” (This was a weird thing to say on so many levels—I don’t sew, really.) She looked at me wearily and said, “I wish I were making a quilt.” And then I snapped back to reality. I was literally in the middle of selling her a variety of medications to deal with severe nausea and pain. Those handkerchiefs were for her head when the chemo made her hair fall out. Soon. But it hadn’t yet, so this was all new and fresh and I was blathering on to a stranger about quilting???
I still think about it. Last time I was in Walmart, I cringed about it, in fact. More than ten years later, I’m still kicking myself for being oblivious, for letting my need to make conversation steamroll right over this poor woman.
I was in college, working quite a bit, leading a small group of high school girls. I hadn’t slept more than six hours a night since maybe early high school. Oh, and I was spending a lot of time with my best friend while simultaneously wondering if he and I would wind up together eventually. (We did.) I was stressed, tired, and trying to become an adult in some reasonable way, but I wasn’t there yet. (Am I now?) When a favorite patient came to my window at the pharmacy and said, “Hey!” I definitely let my exhausted, grouchy, overwhelmed face show.
I bet it looked a lot like rudeness.
I’m really thankful for that interaction with Jenn the other day. There’s a whole collection of similar incidents in my memory where I was the one having a bad day and behaving poorly. They come up in Walmart or, most often, when I’m in the shower. (Other people have their best ideas in the shower; I have random, unfixable regrets.) I’ve tried to talk myself out of the shame with “she’s definitely not still thinking about this—I bet she doesn’t even remember it” but I’ve never before considered maybe these things that still taunt me as I’m washing my hair inspired compassion rather than judgement or offense.
I saw her again today. Same register. She seemed back to her usual friendly self.
*not her real name. Sorry Real Jenn. I figured it was a safe pick—common enough, and my actual Jenns know I love them.
This post is part of my series, 31 days of speaking the truth. You can find the whole list of them here on the first post of the series.