I’m still thinking about you.
I realize that you are probably not still thinking about me. Not in any conscious way, of course. I suppose it’s possible that the stinging memory of my ostensible rudeness boils up every time you have to steer a course around an overly laden-down MacLaren that’s bucking and straining to get up onto the sidewalk curb, or when you have to wait for the lady in front of you to finish doling out the snack she just bought for her whining children before you can get close enough to the cash register to pay for your Smartwater. New York City is full of rude people, many of them parents with young children, and perhaps to you, I’m just one more.
Before I go on to describe the ways you’ve changed my life since our interaction, I want to point out that I watched you hurtling down the sidewalk toward the Starbucks through the glass doors. You were clearly in a rush. I also saw your face the moment you yanked open the door and at once perceived the painful truth—there was no way for you to get in until I got out. So you held the door open. Because you had to.
I don’t want to take away from your act of generosity. I truly don’t intend to be snarky. In fact, it’s that moment—the moment our disparate realities and desires collided (me: stroller out, you: door in) that I’ve been meditating on the most since that day.
The thing is, I should have said thank you sooner. I was focused on other stuff: aiming the stroller wheels (which are about 3/8 of an inch narrower than the door) with keen precision through the doorframe so I didn’t have to perform the always-embarrassing bump-and-back-up move. I was focused on deciding whether or not my one-year-old could choke on the straw I’d given him to chew on while I was waiting for my overpriced iced tea; on the call I needed to make in a minute, and trying to remember if I’d put my phone in my back pocket or in my wallet or if it was maybe down in the diaper bag.
I was aware that you were holding open the door, that you were waiting, that it was time for me to acknowledge your good manners, so I did open my mouth, finally, to say, “Thank you.” Only, you didn’t know I was going to say it, and so you screamed “You’re welcome!!” in my face like I was an idiot without smack of social grace, and you marched self-righteously inside as I finished mumbling my thanks and pushed my stroller to the curb.
To be honest, my first thought was—If you need someone to say thank you that badly, then you probably need to get a life. But as I began reflecting more on what really happened in the doorway of that Starbucks, I began (as I am wont to do) to find some deeper meaning there.
The fact is, I was focused on “other stuff.” In other words: not present in the moment. This is a pretty normal state of affairs not just for moms, but also for most people in general. We do most of our living—tying our shoes, grabbing handfuls of toilet paper, locking and unlocking our front doors, eating our breakfasts, lunches, dinners, changing the channel on the TV—without fully being alive to whatever we’re doing at the moment.
For me what this means is that unless I work very hard to stay present, I get sucked into an unending roar of thoughts, feelings and compulsions that I constantly tend and feed, often at the unfortunate expense of whomever or whatever is directly before me. This matters, because when I’m caught up in the “roaring” in my head, I know I’m missing the vibrancy and connection that is here in the moment. And I spend way more time being unhappy and dissatisfied than I do when I’m able to stay with what’s here and now. (And I might inadvertently make others feel unimportant or unappreciated… Ugh.)
I wasn’t thinking about anything important as I shoved my stroller through the door. I was just doing far too much thinking when I should have been being. Period.
However, I’m not letting you, Ms. Huff, get off too easily, either. There’s a little lesson I’d like to offer you, which, for now, I’ve entitled: We’ve Got to Work Together to Make it Work. (Okay, so it’s a super-drafty, working title!) But, basically the lesson is this: This great big city of ours can be hard and lonely. We’ve all had moments while scurrying and scrambling around when we just needed… something extra. Extra time, extra patience, extra understanding, extra kindness… It can be easy to forget that most human beings are just a series of raw or festering wounds wrapped in the thinnest of skin. Your tiny fit reminded me that if we don’t care for one another, if we don’t take time to give a little extra when we can, we won’t be able to survive here. This city will surely swallow us up with cynicism, disappointment and despair.
So, to you, the girl who held the door then screamed at me—thank you. Thank you not just for holding the door, but thank you for screaming in my face. It helped to wake me up, and reminded me to try harder each day to be a person who looks out for those who need a little extra.