Life lessons are all around us if we just pay attention.
Visiting Seattle recently, I was picking up lunch and coffees to take to family members. Immersed in organizing my to-go order in a manageable way to carry it while walking a mile or so and worried I was running late — basically lost in my own thoughts as most of us usually are — I was carelessly oblivious to the fact that I was standing in front of the coffee cup lids, blocking access to them for others.
Suddenly hearing a frustrated, pointed “Excuse me, can I please reach past you to get a lid?”, I turned to my right to see a young woman who looked like she was trying to keep her irritation under control — but she was clearly irritated.
I’ve lost hearing in my right ear recently, and I have found myself in lots of situations where I don’t hear people — and this was one of them. I realized she had been asking, and I had looked like I was ignoring her; I just hadn’t heard her.
I apologized immediately, moved to the side, quickly explained I was deaf on my right side, and apologized again for not hearing her previous requests.
Which would have normally been the end of our interaction, but she gave me the most understanding look, told me her mother had lost hearing in one ear, paused thoughtfully, and then stopped me short with this: “Thank you for providing me with an opportunity to see that my perspective is not the only one, and that it is not always a correct one.”
That’s it in a nutshell, right?
We all need to remind ourselves of that — perhaps most particularly in a polarizing election year like this one.
That was it, that was all that was said between us. She took her lid, I headed out the door with my salads and coffees. But I kept thinking about her and what she had said for the rest of my walk. And days later, that brief interaction has kept returning to me.
What a remarkable young woman.
She was able to make an immediate shift from her irritation to empathy, understanding and insight, when given just one small bit of information: my inability to hear her.
How many of us, when irritated in traffic, in a long line at the grocery store, or in so many other places where we are bothered by others’ inadequacies — their pick of presidential candidates, for instance — how many of us, given a brief peek at their perspective, would be able to make that shift, to release that irritation and anger? And then, to not only let that go, but to see in it a gift received, a new way of looking at things? For this young woman, it was a reminder that she is not always right. That things are not always as they may seem to her.
She saw a lesson to be learned in a brief encounter – and then she went even further and thanked me for providing it.
I learned from her as well. I was reminded that sometimes when I’m absorbed in doing what I think is important, I can be impeding someone else from doing what they need or want to do. I was reminded that moments of insight are available to us all the time, if we just pay attention. I saw also the beauty of taking the time to tell someone when they played a role in that insight, even if it was unintentional.
Part of me was left wishing I had asked her name, wishing that we could connect again. But another part thinks this anonymous encounter was all the more perfect, in reminding me that everyone around us has a story, a history, a perspective, and if we are really awake, if we really pay attention, we can learn from each one.
Susan Timmins, local business owner, mother and Anna Maria Island resident, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.