The other day I waited at the deli counter. The woman ahead of me asked for something they were out of.
“What do you mean?” she screeched at the deli worker. “It’s in the ad! It’s on sale!”
“I’ll check the cooler again,” replied the deli lady, and she disappeared into the back.
The customer turned and said at me. “Is this when I’m allowed to start swearing?! Do you believe this place?!”
I shrugged meekly and thought about the quote. It sure looked like the customer was giving the deli worker a hard time, but, really, she was having a hard time herself. When deli meat becomes the make-or-break in a day, a person is having a pretty bad day.
My father spent Monday night in the hospital. When I walked in his room the next day, his room-mate said to me, “You must be Sally.”
“Yes,” I said, wondering how he knew.
“I’ve heard your name a few times,” he said. “At 1 AM. At 2 AM…”
When my father calls for me in the middle of the night, he’s not giving me a hard time. He’s having a hard time.
“I’m so sorry,” I said to the roommate.
The nurse came in to go over paperwork with the roommate. Honestly, I wasn’t intentionally listening, but only a curtain separated me from them.
Nurse: Who do you live with?
Roommate: I live alone.
Nurse: Do you have any family that lives near you?
Roommate: My kid lives about three hours away.
Nurse: Is he able to come help you when you go home?
Roommate: I ain’t spoke to him in two years.
Nurse: Is there anyone who can help you when you get home?
Roommate: My neighbor helps me if I ask.
Nurse: How many levels in your house?
Roommate: One. It’s an old huntin’ cabin.
Nurse: Do you have running water?
Nurse: What?! (long pause) You don’t have water?! What do you do?
Roommate: Buy it in town. My neighbor gets it for me.
Nurse: I’m surprised that you don’t have water. (another pause) No, I’m sorry. I’m not surprised. It’s fine.
I was busy helping my father and didn’t hear some of her questions. The next one I heard was –
Nurse: Do you have television?
Nurse: What do you do?!
Roommate: Whaddya mean, what do I do?
Nurse: For entertainment. In the evening.
Roommate: I have a big garden. There’s lots to do without a television.
I could hear her frustration and his annoyance.
I wanted to lean past the curtain and whisper to her — He’s not giving you a hard time. He’s having a hard time. He didn’t get much sleep last night and he’s about to go into surgery. He’s anxious and alone. Can you get him through the next few hours and then come back to this?
And I wanted to whisper to him — She’s not giving you a hard time. She’s having a hard time imagining your life which is so different from hers.
Taking a moment in the other person’s shoes can make a difference.
I now have a daily reminder to do that.