“When you judge someone, it doesn’t define them; it defines you.” Wayne Dyer
It was almost dinner time when I found myself behind a woman in a grey pick-up truck in the Ralph’s parking lot in Newport Beach. I was trying to get home to feed my kids the roasted chicken, pre-cooked veggies, and bags of salad I was going to throw together for them.
That’s pretty much all I had energy for… Being bone-tired from parenting and working and dealing with Hashimoto’s took all the stuffing out of me so, I sort of stopped cooking and became known for “food assembly” — pay a little extra for someone else to do the work and all I have to do is assemble it and go, “Ta da!” while I served a platter of food to my family.
But unfortunately, it was that witching hour of 4:30 p.m. when every other tired mom had no idea what she was going to cook for dinner and landed on the same idea that brought her to the grocery store, too.
You could feel the frenetic energy of the women who were still trying to maintain their Southern California ‘cool and unflustered’ aura about them as they raced toward the display of fresh roasted chicken and warm side dishes.
As we raced, I mean. I was one of them and I happened to score a chicken before they ran out. And a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc before I hit the check out stand. Hooray for me.
Once I was home and the food was laid out, I was planning to enjoy a deep and long glass of wine while everyone else chewed their dinner and I sipped mine.
So, that’s why I left the store with one focused mission: Home for wine.
I climbed into my car and pulled out of my spot just in time to land behind an older pick-up truck that was c-r-a-w-l-i-n-g through the parking lot. Oh, lucky me. The woman with the dark ponytail who was behind the wheel went from a crawl to a stop.
I tapped my hand on the steering wheel and rolled my eyes.
She started again. She stopped again. She started going. Then, she stopped again. After the third time, I started muttering not-so-nice things under my breath. I wanted to get home. I had kids to feed. Plus, now I really had to go peeps… so, I needed her to move and keep moving and I really needed her to stop with all the stopping. When she finally pulled out onto the street I was ready to zip around her in a ticked-off way so she would know my displeasure, but then, I noticed she pulled over to the side of the road.
Something inside of me told me to pull over too, so I could check on her.
I got out of my car, part exasperated and part concerned and as I walked up to her open window, I could see she had tears in her eyes and a three year-old in the back seat. “Are you okay?” I asked as I glanced back and forth between the two of them to try to figure out what was going on. The woman tried to explain with her hand on her chest as she tried to catch her breath, “I’m so sorry! I’ve been a mess! I gave my son a round candy when we got in the car and he started making these awful sounds. When I turned around, he was choking…”
She went on to tell me the insider scoop of why the car was herking and jerking in the lot …that she kept trying to help him while he was in a 5-point harness car seat and she was in the front of the car, strapped in herself. A couple of times she thought the candy was loose and he was fine but then she’d hear him struggling again and stop. She was understandably terrified.
I looked at the little boy who was happily chewing on the treat that apparently had dislodged at some point. I said to him, “You doing okay, bud?” He said, “I okay!” And then, I brought my eyes back to the mom who looked like she needed a hug and a stiff drink. I touched her arm, “I am so sorry. What a scary, scary situation. You’re okay. He’s okay. I have two little boys at home. I’ve had my own scary moments like these. Good lord, they take your breath away, don’t they?”
She nodded with appreciation and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, “I’m good now. Thanks for checking on us. I’m sorry I was driving crazy, I was just running on instinct.”
“I get it. You did the right thing. He was the priority. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks…” I patted her arm again and waved to the little boy who waved back.
How many times do we think that someone’s just being selfish or trying to aggravate us when the truth is that they’re having a moment that’s a million layers deep… where they’re just trying to handle a situation that’s hard for them. And because we’re in the impact zone and don’t know the whole story, we make it more about us than we do about the truth?
We encounter folks every day who aren’t necessarily dealing with a stuck candy, but maybe a pain that they can’t shake loose. Or a memory that has them paralyzed. Or a health condition. Or the loss of a loved one that leaves such a fresh and deep wound… maybe they’re trying to live in the mainstream world but their brain and body are working in not such a mainstream way.
I get it. I’ve been the chick on the right lane of the freeway who’s having a panic attack because my thyroid meds were too much and the adjustment phase showed it’s wonkiness while I was going 65 miles an hour and had to slow it down to 45 while I talked myself off the ledge and people were pissed and honking behind me.
I’ve been the mom who had to put a full cart of groceries to the side and take a screaming, tired 3 year-old home and stop for fast food on the way. I’m not so sure I was the kindest, most wonderful person at the drive-through that day.
I’ve been the mom who had people groaning while I tried to get off a plane with two, nursing toddlers who fell asleep 20 minutes before we landed from the red-eye flight and were like two dead weights in my arms as I tried to figure out a diaper bag, a double stroller, luggage, and an exhausted Hashimoto’s body that hadn’t slept all-night beside my two wide-awake chair-kicking travel companions.
I’m not the only one in the world with an autoimmune condition. I’m aware of that when I encounter cranky waitresses or salespeople and customers in line at the post office.
(Do you know how uncomfortable it is to stand in line when you have a pain-filled auto-immune situation? Pain can make you cranky…)
I’m not the only one who’s tired because my hormones or marriage or finances (or all of the above) were in a tizzy.
I’m not the only one who’s distracted and says stupid things because I was up night-after-night, trying to figure out how to heal my son from bullying and then, mold-toxicity leaving me exhausted.
I’m not saying that we have permission to be assholes or have to give permission to people who are being assholes. Trust me — there are some people who are being selfish and entitled and difficult to be around and need a massive awakening… I’m not talking about those people.
I’m just saying that we don’t always know who those people are at first blush because sometimes pain-in-the-ass people and hurting people act a lot like each other. Sometimes we need to remember to have grace and that before we judge a person, we likely need to do a better job of investigating or understanding the situation because the truth of what I said to that distressed momma in the pick-up truck is true:
We need to do the right thing
And keep the priority the priority.
And while we’re doing that, as imperfectly as we’re trying to do it,
“It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks…”
Even if that anyone who is driving behind you is rolling her eyes and trying to get home to wine.
Even if that anyone happens to be me.