(I love this story—a re-post from 2016. Happy fa-la-la-la-la-ing, y’all.)
And we’re off!!!
‘Tis the season, y’all—in case you haven’t noticed. It started well before Halloween this year, and now we’re already nearly a week into that post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas countdown.
And folks are cranky.
It doesn’t help that this hectic holiday season falls within days of the most contentious political race in recent memory. We’re starting out frazzled. And we’ve still got 25 days to get through—and ideally, enjoy.
And I think we can. I certainly think we should. But, for many of us, it will take conscious effort. For me it will. I have so much on my plate right now in addition to the cooking, shopping, decorating, hostessing and the other fa-la-la-la-la-ing that the season entails. It’s mostly good, exciting stuff—marketing my book, teaching my classes, writing my blog, getting ready for a big family vacation, collecting seashells and sunrises…
But it is also a wistful time for me—and for most everyone I know. It seems we have all lost someone we love, and for better or for worse, the holidays shine a spotlight on that empty place at the table, that empty stocking on the mantle. We wonder what we will get them for Christmas, before we realize that they are no longer with us. It’s an emotional time.
It is a hustle and bustle time. There are still only 24 hours in a day. But the number of items on our to-do list has quadrupled. It seems inevitable that we will feel overwhelmed. And it’s so hard to be all “peace on Earth, good will to men” when your head is spinning off your shoulders.
A few years ago, I thought I might get beat up on Christmas Eve. I had dashed out to the store to pick up a can of cranberry sauce. I had a crowd of folks coming for dinner. Myles, was just a baby, Taylor barely a fetus—and we pulled into the Thriftway parking lot, along with a few hundred other neighbors and forgetful hostesses, and circled the crowded lot looking for a place to park. About the third time around, a spot opened up, and I pulled in.
I was unbuckling Myles from his car-seat when a big burgundy Suburban pulled up and stopped right there behind my SUV. I balanced Myles on my hip, and started to step around the vehicle, when the driver side door exploded open and out lurched a frenzied, furious female, screaming that I had stolen her parking spot.
Well. Huh. I wasn’t expecting this. Neither was Myles. He whimpered and clutched my sweater in his fist. Again, I tried to step around her, and again she blocked my path. I waited for a break in her rant and then I stated the obvious—“I see that this parking space is really important to you. It’s not that important to me.”
And it wasn’t.
With very slow and deliberate attention, I strapped Myles back into his car seat, kissed him on his noggin, and got back in the car. I actually fastened my seatbelt and adjusted my mirrors, before reversing out of the spot (she had inched back) and driving four spaces closer to the store, and re-parking the car.
She was waiting for me when I got to the entrance. She looked at me sheepishly, at the baby on my hip, and mumbled, “Sorry.” I, perhaps still feeling a little passive aggressive, offered a cheery, “Merry Christmas!” and went to get my cranberries.
I wonder if she remembers this encounter. I wonder why I do. But it’s a pretty vivid memory for me. There was Christmas music playing in the parking lot—Jingle Bell Rock. Chestnuts were actually being roasted there on the sidewalk. The whole place was ablaze with Poinsettias. And this crazy lady was screaming at me.
Only she wasn’t a crazy lady. She was me and you. She simply behaved the way I so often feel during the Holidays—irrationally irritated. Would she have indulged her enmity on a mild Spring evening in May? I don’t know. Maybe she is just a shrew, and goes through life pissed off. But somehow I doubt it. The holidays can bring out the very best and the very worst in most of us.
I found myself furious last week in line at that big store whose name starts with a “W” and ends with an “almart.” The old woman in front of me had coupons y’all. Paper coupons. About 90 of them. Normally I might find this kind of charming—she looked like Mother Goose, and pulled her coupons from a tattered expandable organizer with tiny scissors attached. But this was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I had company coming. I had important stuff to do—really important bacon to fry for the broccoli salad, pecans to roast for the dump cake. I had to clean both bathrooms. Mother Goose was keeping me from my toilet brush. She was cramping my style. I stood there in line fuming, and when it was finally, finally, my turn, I slammed my bacon, pecans and Clorox Clean-up onto the belt and glared at the sweet old woman’s hunched back as she shuffled away with her groceries.
I didn’t yell at anybody though. But that’s because I had already had a knock-down drag-out with my printer that morning. Yes, y’all. I screamed at my HP Officejet 6812 when it refused to stop printing out page after page after page of backlogged documents. I couldn’t get it to stop, and I have this pathological aversion to wasting paper. (Thanks, Daddy.) I frantically started jabbing function keys and icons and then tried to use the power button on the printer itself, with no success. So, I began screaming, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” The paper tray on the thing wasn’t extended, so pages were flying all around the office, I was yelling, the dog was cowering and I knocked my coffee off the sweet little plaque Kelly gave me last Christmas that says, “Thank you for being a friend.”
Finally the thing ran out of assignments, and sputtered to a stop. I scowled at it as I mopped up my spilled coffee, and realized with chagrin, that I could’ve just pulled the paper out of the printer drawer and saved both paper and my nerves. But no. I went a different route.
The whole little “crisis” took less than a minute, and I let it set the stage for the rest of my day. Which is really, really stupid. It reminds me of that money metaphor I saw on Facebook: You have $86,400 in your account and you lose ten dollars. You’re really bummed about losing that money, but you don’t throw away the remaining $86,390 because of it, do you? No, that would be stupid. About as stupid as letting a few seconds of my 86,400 second day, ruin the whole damn day.
I left Walmart, indignant. So, of course, my attitude driving down 98 was less than friendly—which is, frankly hilarious. I am the world’s most oblivious driver. I have no right to judge even the most flagrant of traffic violators. But I think I ended up behind Mother Goose again, and like I said, I had toilets to clean. I love George Carlin’s observation: Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone driving faster than you is a maniac?”
My world was suddenly populated with nothing but idiots and maniacs. Hmmm.
What is wrong with this picture?
Irritation like this is inherently arrogant. Think about it. You have to see yourself, if only temporarily, as better—more intelligent, more important, more efficient, more entitled, more whatever—to indulge behaviors, or even thoughts that support that kind of mood. Test this hypothesis out on yourself. The next time you feel irritated, I bet you a million bucks, you’re placing yourself above that chatty cashier, that pokey driver—even that inanimate object spewing paper around the office. (In that last case, I guess you really should be smarter than your printer. Clearly, I’m not.) But, in order to get mad at others for ostensibly inconveniencing you, you have to see your needs or preferences as paramount. My urgent need to scrub toilets supersedes Mother Goose’s need to save six dollars and 72 cents on canned goods.
And even though I didn’t say or do anything rude to anyone but my printer on Wednesday, I got home and felt ashamed about my sucky attitude at the “W” store. I remembered being with my Daddy at the same superstore just a couple of years back. It was during his ninth decade of life, and he was slowing down a bit. But Daddy never wanted to be a burden to anyone, and had carefully planned for his, and Mom’s, waning years. Still, he had voluntarily relinquished his car keys after asking my brother to take him for a test drive and to give him an honest appraisal of his driving abilities. Even Daddy agreed—his reaction time was just too slow at this point, to navigate Highway 98 safely.
So, I drove him to Walmart a couple of times a month to pick up toiletries and such, and to get his hair cut—he still wanted to look good for Mom. Daddy didn’t like us kids paying for anything at all, and he wasn’t one to use credit cards much. He preferred to pay with cash, or in this case, a check.
It was a busy morning at Walmart, and the line was long. By the time we made it to the cashier, I could tell that Daddy’s back and hips were screaming from standing in line, but he didn’t complain. He leaned heavily on the checkout counter, and patted his pockets for his wallet, and finding it, dropped it on the ground. I retrieved it for him, and he fumbled for the single check he had placed in it that morning for this outing, and finding it, dropped that too. He made a joke about it—as Dad always did—when faced with the indignities of aging, and proceeded to fill out the check to give to the cashier. Only now, he was a little flustered, and again, dropped the check.
Apparently, the woman in line behind us, had toilets to clean or something equally exigent, and in a huff, she snatched up her diet cokes and Bubba Burgers, and pushed backwards through the crowd, to seek out a more efficient checkout line. I don’t think Daddy noticed. I pray that Daddy didn’t notice. He was doing his best—as he always did.
Mother Goose was doing her best. Even the “crazy lady” in that parking lot so long ago, it could be argued, was doing her best—if only with regard to the humility it took to apologize to me and Myles. But even if she hadn’t apologized, I think I’d want to offer her grace—and not a fist fight under the mistletoe at Thriftway. Who knows what was going on in her life that night? The Holidays, as I mentioned earlier, can be a stressful, or even sorrowful time for so many.
I’m going to keep that in mind, y’all. Even when people behave poorly. Especially when they do. When the line is stupid-long at the post office (as it was yesterday) with only one window staffed at rush hour. When a family member says something snarky. When a business associate doesn’t return my call, or email, or text, or skywriting. When I don’t get invited to the party. When I do get invited to the party (and don’t want to go, Ha!) When a friend overlooks me. When a Facebook rant interrupts my enjoyment of sunrises and babies and kittens. When my husband is late for supper. When my kids leave their dishes in the sink…
I am practicing y’all—practicing not just refraining from engaging in retaliatory or hostile behaviors, I’m working on amending the whole thought process that accompanies an inconvenient or aggravating moment. I want it to be second nature for me to think differently about every “idiot” or “maniac” that crosses my path this Holiday Season and beyond. Ha! I think new labels are in order. I’ve said it a million times, we are all “messy mortals.” That idiot is me. That maniac is you. Yes, you. Ha!
I recently read a great quote by poet Mark Nepo: “The key to knowing joy is being easily pleased.” And a happy corollary to being easily pleased, is that you cease to be easily irked. It takes practice though. First, in not reacting grumpily—not even with an eye-roll. Even if the object of your ire doesn’t see your disgust, your own body registers negativity and stores it away in your lower back or neck or left temple. And second, in starting to change the very thoughts that put you above Mother Goose, or my Daddy, or any messy mortal that stumbles in your path. For stumble, they will. Especially this time of year. Give them grace.
For you, my friend, will stumble too. It’s okay. Give yourself some too.
Your toilets can wait.
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(at the front register)
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