I like to think I am a fairly tolerant and and gracious person–especially with strangers. If I feel like someone is rude to me or otherwise doesn’t treat me well, I try to give that person the benefit of the doubt. But there are times of significant emotional stress when my tolerance is very low. In those times, there’s a spark inside me that flares quickly, and it seems the tiniest of offenses can make me go from calm to livid. It makes me want to scream, “DON’T mess with me!”
Last weekend, on the way to my grandmother’s funeral, I prepared to enter a confusing traffic circle in an unfamiliar area. I hadn’t paused but for a few seconds when the car behind me honked. OH, how I wanted to hurt that person. That driver had NO IDEA what I was dealing with. What the bleep was so important that couldn’t wait a few bleepin’ seconds?! (I kept my choice words to myself, out of courtesy to the other people riding with me).
A few months after my dad passed away, I went with my mom to her cable service provider to help her assess (and hopefully decrease) her cable bill. Part of our goal was to make sure she was able to keep a certain sports package so she could continue to watch Kentucky basketball (my dad’s favorite pastime, and one my mom had come to share). The woman we spoke with was not only entirely unhelpful, but rude. I fought the urge to ask my mom to step outside while I gave this woman a fierce lecture on courtesy and how she should consider that the people across the counter might be dealing with something really hard. I may have also envisioned shattering the glass behind which she sat so smugly. I didn’t do either–though sometimes I wish I had at least done the former. (As for the glass, one would think that when a company’s treatment of customers tends to make customers so angry that the employees have to sit behind protective glass, one might consider whether the problem is with the company itself).
Both of those examples involve people who were unaware of my circumstances–not that not knowing someone’s circumstances is ever an excuse for treating someone else badly. But it seems so much worse when someone who absolutely knows your circumstances–for instance, a funeral home employee–treats you badly. After my grandmother’s funeral service last weekend, one of my sisters needed to leave immediately for the airport to catch her plane. However, she couldn’t find the keys to her rental car. Instead of getting in my car to join the funeral procession, I went back inside the funeral home to help her look. Once she found them, I headed back outside. As I walked to my car, one of the employees waiting to start the procession made an impatient gesture towards me–the message being, “Hurry up!” He was lucky he was standing on the other side of the parking lot, because I probably would have smacked him. I cannot think of an appropriately terrible word to describe that kind of behavior.
It’s strange–and a little frightening–to feel such intense anger towards someone you don’t know. But when you are experiencing acute emotional trauma–like the death of a loved one–you are going to feel in ways and depths that will surprise you.
Remember those moments when you’re the impatient driver or the burned-out employee. Remember how it felt when someone you didn’t know treated you poorly, and it nearly broke the thin strand that was barely holding you together. Remember that, and find within yourself the motivation to be kind.