I was in a hurry. I had company coming any minute and realized that I was out of a few things. So I dashed out to the closest grocery store, had the car door open before I’d even turned off the ignition, and made a beeline for the entrance.
However, once I’d traversed the crosswalk and arrived at the outdoor gourd display, I was stopped short by an elderly couple who shuffled, a quarter-step at a time, toward the automatic door, which opened, then closed, then opened …
The man seemed to be the root of the hold-up. His back was hunched, his head stooped and shaking, as he leaned heavily on a quad cane in his left hand while his wife supported him on the other side. Once they’d gotten through the first door, they doddered a few more laborious steps and the woman headed right to retrieve a shopping cart — leaving her husband in just about the only spot that could have completely blocked the second door.
A backup was now forming, others patrons unable to circumvent the painfully slow couple to get inside.
I sighed in irritation, feeling a pressure build behind my eyes. Why now of all times? I need to get my things and get home.
The man was too close to the door — which continued to open, close, open, close — for his wife to get the carriage around him. She let go of it, assisted him in stepping sideways a few times, then pushed the cart through the door … where she left it to block the inside of the doorway while she returned once more to aid her husband.
I saw my opening. I quickly maneuvered behind and around the old man. Yet even on tiptoes and sucking in my breath, I wound up knocking his left elbow as I passed. I slipped to the front of them and through the doorway, where I moved the cart forward a few inches to scoot around it and on my way.
Eating my words 1
A minute later, somewhere toward the back of the produce section, I heard a voice:
“Treat people as people, not as props or obstacles in your path.”
“Focus on the person, not the problem.”
“Patience is still a virtue.”
In case you don’t recognize it, the voice I heard was my own, reminding me of things I’ve written about often on this blog and within the pages of my first book, The Best Advice So Far.
I thought about my 93-year-old Nana, and how glad I’d be if she could manage — however slow her pace — to still get out and enjoy doing her own grocery shopping. I thought about how I’d feel if I saw some impatient, inconsiderate, self-absorbed jerk darting around her, jostling her on his way to get about his own business.
Eating my words 2
I don’t very much like that picture of myself; and, as a rule, it’s not who I am. What I do like very much, however, is that I have that voice speaking in my head, loud and clear.
In my role as a mentor, writer and speaker, people often thank me for the advice I share, expressing how it’s helped them solve a problem, change their perspective or approach people differently. But as I replied to one reader-friend in the comments section of a recent post:
“Trust me — I am my own reader in the sense of thinking about these things. I honestly believe that I benefit most from writing what I write. It keeps me honest. Hard to write and speak things and then ignore them.”
I went looking for the old couple, to apologize. I looked down every aisle. Oddly enough, they were nowhere to be found. I was sad about that. Still, I’d gotten yet another timely reminder about people, myself and the things that really matter in life all the same.
I took a break in the middle of publishing this post, deciding to go for a short walk to enjoy the unseasonably warm day and the fall foliage along a lakeside trail nearby. No sooner had I begun, it seemed, I came upon a woman and her old dog. The woman walked with a cane, the dog plodding along beside her. They were making their way by inches across a wooden bridge — no way around them. But you can bet that my patience, empathy and ability to see people as people had returned. I stooped to pet her friend while she and I enjoyed some light conversation as she continued to cross the bridge at her own pace. How wonderful, I thought, that despite her obvious challenges, she was making the choice to go out — and live.
Eating my words 3
None of us gets it right every time in life. But I can tell you first hand that you’ll get it right a lot more often, right your course more quickly, when you’ve got a stream of consistent and positive messages flowing in.
I’m not talking about the glut of motivational memes scrolling up our feeds between celebrity gossip and weird pet tricks. I’m talking about selective input to which we devote regular time and focus.
It’s a slow and steady diet. There are no quick fixes or overnight successes. And none of us ever arrives.
Whether for you or for me, a lifestyle of positivity requires being intentional. It doesn’t happen by accident.
As with most things, it comes down to choice.