By: Sandy Churchill
Chaos and frenzy abound these days, whether it’s the holiday rush, the ever-evolving COVID-19 crisis, or the frantic pace of traffic and work and school. Thus, it is no surprise that we are often so steeped in our own “to-do” list, that we can be unintentionally oblivious to the needs of others in line, on the highway, at the supermarket, etc. Case in point: a recent Christmas-week trip to the post office landed me several folks back in line where I witnessed a self-absorbed older gent at the front, lugging over a dozen haphazardly-wrapped, bulging-at-the-seams packages onto the counter, where they had to be weighed and assigned postage. Seriously? Several folks ahead of me had one or two transactions to conduct. This guy was taking a super-long time getting his stuff taken care of, and did he acknowledge even with a single nod of apology, how much he was holding everybody up? Did he have to wait to do all his business all at once and make everyone waste an entire lunch break standing in line? Could he have made more than one trip?
Another dear lady stepped ahead to the counter to reveal that, to her horror, she had stuffed a fistful of cards through the slot with no postage! She was so clearly apologetic and embarrassed at her mistake, that everyone in line seemed to smile knowingly and offer support.
I’ve witnessed folks at the supermarket check-out line keep everyone else waiting while they fastidiously count out dozens of coins, one at a time, to deliver exact change, or lighten a purse—no matter that it’s a supposedly-speedy checkout.
Rather than judge it as selfish behavior, I see it more likely as a sort of tunnel vision, a state of mind where we are too absorbed in our troubles or the daily stresses of life that we simply do not see the plight of others even in the near vicinity. Personally, I have caught up with long-lost friends in store parking lots, unaware that I might be blocking a car trying to exit, or taken an extra minute at a medical appointment counter, sorting through my wallet to locate my insurance card. These behaviors are not designed to intentionally tick anyone off. They are part of being stressed-out, rushed, ill-prepared, or simply doing too many things and not having the time or focus to be prepared. In short, they are par for the course of being human.
One of my daughters refers to this quintessential desire of mindfulness to others as looking outward. When we take a breath to slow down and survey our surroundings, we may notice the crazy-long checkout line, the jammed parking lot, or the harried folks surrounding us in a doctor’s waiting room. We may see the frenzied clerk at the customer service counter or the brand-new coffee shop worker who is too stressed to get the order right and doesn’t respond well to disgruntled caffeine junkies yelling at him.
Back at the post office, I had a great deal of time to notice the Santa and North Pole decorations and savor the soothing melody of Billy Joel’s “I Love You Just the Way You Are” while I waited to mail a package. A mom ahead of me turned back to smile and say her son was taking my painting class later that afternoon and how excited he was for the class. And the man with all the packages—so many he made multiple trips back and forth to his car—eventually finished his business and left the post office.
I had time to survey the needs and emotions around me that afternoon and decided it would make a nice resolution for 2022 to be a bit more mindful of the needs around me. So topping the list for the year ahead is a personal commitment to expand that occasional tunnel vision and pause more to look outward, in a quest to be more considerate and help heighten compassion and patience in my daily rounds.