Today my husband took the van to go teach a class so the kids and I headed on the subway to do some grocery shopping. We headed out around lunch time and the subway was packed with people. On more than once occasion, my children inadvertently bumped into people. It’s hard not to when people are zig zagging in dozens of directions at breakneck speeds. I would have never guessed that it was the weekend.
People rarely make eye contact. Heads are kept down and smiles are few between strangers.
I think about how sometimes I feel more connected to the “non-life” that John Steinbeck talks about than other human beings. I can pick up a rock at the beach or feel the drizzle of the rain on my face and feel connected to everything. But when someone snaps at my child for bumping into them by accident, I feel nothing but separate and instinctively want to defend my family.
As we noticed the irritations on the faces of strangers even in the busy grocery store, where, yes, I may bump into you with my cart if you turn a corner suddenly in such a hurry, we talked about the general condition of people’s sour disposition.
I asked the kids how they felt when a stranger got upset with them over something accidental like obstructing the person’s path because the kids turned to go in another direction. They said they felt bad. I asked them if I thought that it would make them feel better to get angry right back. They said no. We talked about how some people can be experiencing challenges in their life that we don’t know about. We can’t take these reactions personally because we’ve all been there. We’ve all had rough days where we snapped at a sibling or a parent. I’ve had days when I’ve been so wrapped up in my own story that I didn’t take time to say please or thank you to a cashier or waitperson or I became impatient with a customer service rep on the phone or the student driver ahead of me. We forget that our anger or irritation or frustration can affect other people even if we aren’t intentionally trying to direct it at everyone we encounter.
When we got to the front of the line at the checkout, my credit card’s chip and swipe weren’t working but I wanted to use the card because we get cash back every time we use it at the grocery store. The people behind me in line were getting frustrated with me. I smiled and apologized but was feeling under the gun. But I looked up and the cashier, who was bantering and smiling with the kids this whole time, reassured me that everything was ok and we could keep trying. At that moment, I relaxed and we figured out a solution together.
Today I am grateful for those encounters with strangers who were impatient and frustrated. These were opportunities to feel compassion and understanding, to feel connected. We can see ourselves in these moments and begin to recognize how getting consumed with our own dramas can affect even the stranger sitting across from you on the subway. It is also a way to appreciate those who go out of their way to be kind and helpful.
If you encounter rudeness or perpetrate it, can you see yourself in the other person? Can you refrain from taking it personal and even send blessings to that person?
42 days of gratitude…giving thanks for it ALL. For info on this project, read here.