This morning between 7:30 and 9:00 was a furious rush not unlike most other mornings. I’ve recently written about how I like to dream the commute to work differently. We all know it is mostly unpleasant. Now try to toss a couple of errands into the early morning soup and try to get to work on time. Now try to get there in a good mood. I’ll admit, it’s difficult. And this morning, I failed at it. (Both at getting there in time and getting there in a good mood.)
I sell used DVDs and books online at a great site called half.com that has done me well for about ten years. It’s a fun, time-intensive, but stress-free chore to list them online and file the inventory alphabetically in a couple of unused kitchen cabinets at my place. Shipping them is usually a bitch. The books go media mail. The DVDs can go first class at the ship-it-yourself kiosk you find in the lobby of most post offices. I work that machine as fast as it will go and bypass the long lines.
This trip to the post office was not unlike many others. I pulled out of traffic for a few minutes to visit the post office on the way to work to mail a few packages before the buyers got antsy enough to give me crappy feedback. I was happy to avoid the long line by going to the automated mailing center. I had just enough time to rush and get to work on time.
And then the machine was painfully slow. I know every button on every screen and hardly even read what it says because I’ve done it so many times. Not this time. Thirty seconds a screen. The computer was going slower than I’d ever seen it. It took forever to mail my packages. I was pissed. I was stressed. And I was such a crappy person that I even complained to the person behind me who most likely didn’t deserve to hear it.
I threw the stamped packages into the mail slot as fast as I could and raced toward the parking lot just slow enough to not trip and fall in my flip-flops. And then to my surprise, I arrived at my car to see a dark brown minivan parked so close to the drivers side of my car that I barely had enough room to squeeze my skinny body between the vehicles to unlock my car.
I cussed under my breath the whole time. I hated the owner of the mini-van. I certainly took it personally. And I was humiliated, rushed, livid… and probably looked the fool to anyone who could have seen me climb over my laptop bag in the passenger seat and over the console to get into the drivers seat. I was letting my mouth run the whole time. To myself. To anyone that could hear. It was loud and vulgar.
I “screeched” out of the parking lot without actually screeching. I was tailgating the termite truck in front of me, even though he couldn’t go any faster. I was pissed that I’d gotten up early to go to work and was running behind yet again.
I tuned in to the unimpressive radio show that I’ve been using to entertain myself in the mornings and tried to forget the bumper to bumper traffic. They were talking about “poop emergencies” and accidents this morning. Really high brow stuff. And as much as I appreciate a good poop joke, I wasn’t impressed. They were taking callers. Some good stories.
And then they answered the call of a young girl. She was nineteen years old. She prefaced the call by saying that she’d called back in July. I immediately thought, well, that’s nice. Why would radio show hosts who talk to thousands of callers remember your call, girl. And then she explained, “I was the one going through radiation, and you told me to call you guys again and tell you how I was doing…. Well as of this past Friday, I am done with my radiation, and they have declared me cancer free!” She was excited that she could continue her school year.
It took only that sixty seconds for the anger in me to drain out of my chest to my stomach, and out of my feet. I couldn’t breathe for a second. Anger was being replaced rapidly by guilt. I felt so stupid.
She must have gone through a daily life of fear and doubt for some time at an age when most young adults have college plans and the rest of their lives ahead of them. At nineteen, she had to have wondered if she was going to get the privilege of continuing her life into career and motherhood.
You know where this is going. And yes. Shame on me. Fuck the post office. Fuck the commute. My problems were small beans.
I spent the rest of the car ride purposefully allowing it to sink in. What I needed, more than getting to work on time, and having a smooth morning (because none of those things are guaranteed) was perspective.
And the thing about perspective is that it’s gained sometimes with great difficulty. The other thing about perspective is that it’s so easy to lose in a moment. It’s so easy to turn on a dime and decide that the trials of the immediate present are all there is.
I’ve never been happier to be shamed this morning, and shamed so immediately right when I needed it. I almost got away with a piss-poor attitude. Here’s to post office rage and similar reactions being cured for some time now. Here’s to a calmer understanding of life. Here’s to walking in someone else’s shoes, or even just getting a whiff of them to remind me that where I stand ain’t that bad.