October 18, 2017

“That’s not the way it’s done!” I was gratefully, finally at the front of my line at Ralph’s when I heard this barked. I looked up, concerned that this woman’s bark was somehow aimed toward me. It was not. Instead, she was angrily tossing this piece of her wisdom to the man with her. They were an older couple, he seemed new to groceries and she seemed quite the opposite. In my imagination, he was newly retired and this was his first foray into the fascinating daily life of his wife the archetypal homemaker. Or it was very possible they had been doing this dance for a thousand years. I came to that conclusion as I snuck a glance into the man’s eyes.

They were downcast. His head drooped. But his lips were moving, uttering something he was either too scared or too weary to say aloud. The woman was on high alert as she took pains to place every item. On the conveyor belt. Just so.

I had never seen anything like it. I understand the need to bag groceries in an order I suppose, like heavy things, cold things, no eggs on the bottom of a bag sort of order, but never in my life had I seen this. Her mate stopped trying to help her unload the cart, probably a sensible move, for she continued to snap at him that it had to be done in a certain way.  Her attempt to organize the groceries from the cart to the belt so that the woman could ring it up brought me from incredulity, to sadness, and back to the realization that we are all truly just trying to cope with our own anxiety.

I felt bad for the man, because he was the recipient of this woman’s less than gentle tone, which never feels good. I felt bad for the woman because she clearly was suffering in her need to control this situation. I felt bad for the love they might have once had when they were young and unencumbered by groceries and errands, and perhaps a nasty bad back or a host of physical pain that I could not see.  I felt badly too that we all had to spend our sunny afternoon underground like this. And I felt especially badly that my nice cashier was going to be staying a lot longer than I.

So I did what I do best in those situations. Get super nice to everyone. I smiled brightly at the man who did not look up to notice, I avoided the eyes of the woman so as not to embarrass her for my seeing her less than stellar moment of behavior. I joked with the young bagging guy and thanked the cashier with silly amounts of praise. But before I left, I reminded myself: that could have been me. That has been and will be me again. Me snapping at someone I might love for doing things in a way I did not like. Me being in the crossfire and not able to speak my mind, or choosing not to and suffering silently. That could have been me, mad at the world for a moment or a day and wishing I could control it further, until I realized again with my narrowness that I cannot. And that could have been me, allowing myself to believe that something external was wildly more important than the way I communicate with the people in my midst.

How we listen to one another can be confusing. We play both roles in every moment. In every moment, we are both communicator AND translator. When I know without doubt that I have been wronged is the very moment for me to ask myself to stop. Slow down and get off my perch of all knowingness and take a deep breath. I truly, truly believe that every person is just doing just the best that he/she can in any given moment. This whole being HUMAN thing is a messy and imperfect business. Of course, there is bad behavior. But I am guessing the woman with the tone I perceived as a bark, may NOT have heard it as such. Maybe the man she was with did not either. Maybe their interchange did not register for them at all and they’ll go right home, cuddle and watch an episode of FRIENDS. Or maybe she will have heard the way she as I did, and apologize to him for loosing her patience. Maybe he will apologize for trying to help for the millionth time!  Or maybe he will ask for for one, or to find out what is going on for her or…. The options are endless. Because that is the thing. As soon as I am SURE I am right about something, I know that is my invitation to realize there are surely a host of other answers and feelings than those “right” ones of which I am sure.

I am sure you have your own thoughts on communication. I look forward to seeing you all on the mat this week, to connect silently and aloud through our breath and our movement, and maybe even a kind word or two.

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