At the check-out line at the store a few years ago, a woman from the back of the line came and stood in front of me, hands on hips. “Let me tell you something. It’s people like you who make it hard for the rest of us. This is an express check-out line. You have more than twelve items! There are rules, you know!” It actually crossed my mind to count the items in my little handheld basket out loud so that she – and the rest of the line – could see. I only had ten items. But I could see that didn’t matter to her. She was looking for someone to pick a fight with. She really had her cranky pants on this morning!
It took all the restraint I had in me to bite back the retort: “Oh. Forget to take your medication today, dear?” I landed on, “Yeah, that’s helpful,” and I waved her away dismissively. I realized that maybe, perhaps, possibly…she really did need some type of medication. It just wasn’t normal to stand there, fuming, wringing your hands and muttering because you think (mistakenly) that someone else has too many items for the express lane.
I couldn’t help myself though, on the way out – I said, “Have a nice day, Miss!” with a very sunny smile, and I semi-saluted (not the middle finger/Jersey variety) as if I was in the military. She said, “I will have a nice day! Because I know how to follow rules!”
Sometimes you realize in Technicolor that you can’t help everyone. It sounds terrible, but you have to realize this and just walk away. My mild comebacks were not very mature, and I’m sure, only reinforced her persecution complex. In her mind, she was trying to make things right but ended up doing it the wrong way.
It reminds me of the way I gave my mother a hard time about her smoking habit. She passed away years ago, but I remember how we went around and around through the years, with me trying to get her to quit, and her trying to get me to realize that it was her only vice, and in some ways, it was all she had to get her through the day. If I had realized that I would lose her so soon, I would have stopped criticizing, because that’s what it really was. The effect of my harping on her, every single time I saw her, was the equivalent of the effects of smoking cigarettes.
The impact on the spirit when someone tears you down is dehydrating, draining, suffocating, sucks the life out of you… kind of like the impact smoking has on the body. I wasn’t helping my mother with my obnoxious rants. I was only satisfying my own need to stand on a soapbox and fight windmills. Just like the lady at the store did to me.
Nowadays, when I want to offer my two cents on how somebody should live, I put those pennies in my own piggy bank. I don’t think it’s possible to know what anyone else is up against, even if it’s your own family member. I’ll have to assume the best thing I can do for anybody – even a grocery-counting lady with her cranky pants on – is hold my tongue and send up a prayer. It’s like Kevlar for the soul, and works like a charm every time.