The cry of the baby was terrifying.
He or she (I am not sure the gender) had been wailing for the last 10 minutes. Every single person in line at CVS was cursing the child under their breath along with the mother, of course. The mother who was incessantly rocking the stroller back and forth, trying desperately to make the child stop -- but making zero progress.
Then a man, who happened to be shirtless and seen one too many days in the Venice sun, finally said it -- LOUD -- so everyone could hear:
"You know a good mother would pick up her crying child."
The young mother ignored him and smiled demurely at the cashier, probably hoping to flee her judge and jury as quickly as possible. Another man, behind me in line, turned and said "All our lives will get better once she leaves." I nodded.
Then I looked at the woman's shopping cart: three diet Root Beers. That's it. Pretty weird. Why go through all of the trouble to take a 5- or 6-month-old baby out to CVS at 2:00 p.m. to buy three diet sodas? And why didn't she pick up her child? I mean can't she see the child is crying and we're all suffering for it? Why was she being a bad mother dammit?!
Maybe she wasn't.
In acting class, the few I've taken anyway, coaches constantly urged me to think about the "moment before." Since film scenes tend to start during the middle of a conversation -- i.e. skipping all the "Hello, how are you?" "Fine how are you?" moments -- actors are told to think about what the person was doing or feeling right before the scene began. Did they get stuck in traffic? Are they flustered? Did their mother just die? What is the person's state of mind?
When I looked at the poor frazzled mother who was publicly chastised for not miraculously making her baby stop crying I thought about her "moment before."
Perhaps she had been stuck in her house all day with a new baby and just wanted to get some fresh air, so she walked to CVS and, not having a real purpose to be there, she bought a couple diet sodas. Maybe it's a treat for her? Maybe her boyfriend or husband loves them? Maybe it's all she can afford?
Or maybe her baby had been crying all day and night and she was trying to teach him or her to stay in the stroller without throwing a fit and CVS was a trial run? Maybe she was weaning the child off of constantly being held. I don't have a baby; I don't know how it works.
Maybe the baby was really hungry and she knew this and she was trying to get out of the store but the damn CVS line was 10 minutes long. Maybe she never meant to be there for so long (she was only buying soda after all) and knew if she breastfed in public she might get chastised for that as well. Maybe this was the least bad option she had.
There are about a thousand things that could have led that diet-Root-Beer buying mother to not pick up her baby but none of us thought about that. We tried her and judged her and let her go with her punishment: public humiliation.
It felt awful. None of us had the balls to be kind. Or stand up for her when she was yelled at.
Moments like this happen everyday. Someone cuts you off in traffic, yells at you in the office, or brushes you off at a bar. What an asshole, right?
Wrong, perhaps if we all stopped thinking about how others' actions affected us and instead thought about what led that person to act that way -- their "moment before" -- we would all be compelled to show a little more compassion and the world would be a much better place.