When in doubt, choose kindness. It's what we try to teach our children, right? But it shouldn't end with teaching our kids, it should be part of the behavior we grownups model every day.
As I approach the first anniversary of my father's passing, I find myself becoming increasingly sad, replaying the last two weeks of his life over and over. For Dad, 13 days was all it took -- a switch was flipped and my vibrant, healthy father was no longer with us. If he could have chosen his own end, I'm fairly certain he would have picked the one God gave him. His mind remained forever sharp (he was even whispering stock tips from the hospital bed), he was in no significant pain, and it was fast. He was not afraid to die -- never was. Mostly, he was concerned for us, Mom, his kids, and grandkids. He needed to know we would be okay. And despite the gaping hole his absence leaves, we are okay. Some days more okay than others, but somehow sorting through one of life's promises: death.
Recently, I was having a less-okay day. I was hosting a graduation party and discovered I bought plastic spoons instead of forks. I needed to do a quick return at the party goods store. Turns out you can't just switch out forks for spoons. Instead, you must wait on line, and do an "official" exchange. As I said, I was already having a less-okay day, missing my father, missing his presence at his granddaughter's party and in disbelief that nearly an entire year had passed. I was crying quietly in line. Evidently I was more than silent crying. I was annoyed and impatient too. There were three customers ahead of me; two buying balloons -- time-consuming balloons that needed to be chosen and sorted, and did I mention time-consuming? All I wanted was forks for spoons.
The gentleman in front of me was beginning his order and asked where he could find the graduation balloon selection. I saw what appeared to be a wall of graduation balloons and suggested he look at it for his choices. I didn't think I was being rude, nor do I think my voice was impatient, but I certainly was trying to facilitate his order. Turns out that was not the place to select from and he was not happy with me.
He became angry. "Take her first," he said. "She doesn't want to be here."
"Thank you," I said. He didn't stop.
"Now she thinks she runs the store. She can tell everyone what to do."
I was confused.
"You are selfish and narcissistic. Get her out of this store," he said, his voice loud and mad, his face red with anger.
I remained calm. "You don't know what is going on in other people's lives," I said.
"I don't give a sh*t what's going on in your life." His response stopped me in my tracks. His tirade continued, but became blurry to me, as I hung on his previous words.
I finished my transaction. Got my forks, left my spoons and left the store. I cried the whole way home. I cried at home, so hard and inconsolably, my husband was worried for my safety or health, never figuring I was berated by a stranger in a party goods store. Maybe I should thank this angry stranger because his mean words enabled me cry so hard and so long, something I rarely allow myself to do. And I was in need of a good cry that day.
Maybe the angry stranger was right. Maybe I am narcissistic. Maybe I am selfish. Or maybe I just needed human kindness. Someone to say, go ahead of me, just because. Someone to say I DO give a sh*t what's going on in your life.
But here's the thing I just figured out -- maybe at that exact moment he needed that same sort of kindness from me, and I wasn't up to the challenge. Maybe we both succumbed to our frailties at the exact same moment. After all, we are all human.
I wonder if I missed his signs. He certainly missed mine. So let's try to remember, as best we can, to choose kindness. Always. Because a little act of kindness can go a long way.