December 24, 2018. Last minute errands on Christmas Eve are a holiday tradition in our home. Usually the last mad dash to the grocery is quite uneventful. Not so today.
I had two errands to run this morning. The first one was to the bank. The second one was to Aldi to pick up pineapple chunks for the ham, Señor Rico’s rice pudding (to which I may have developed an addiction), and to wander the special buys aisle to see if there was anything I thought I needed.
U.S. Highway Route 1 bisects Laurel, Maryland where we live. Both the bank and Aldi are located on the West side of U.S. 1 though the bank is the furthest. It makes sense, therefore, to go to the bank first, and then stop at Aldi on the way home, which is what I did.
Leaving the bank I turned onto Rte. 1, moved to far right lane, and prepared to turn into the strip mall entrance where Aldi is located. A car quickly appeared behind and tailgated me as we turned into the access road beside the large parking area. The driver of the tailgating car turned into the parking area one entrance before the one I used. What I didn’t know is that the other driver was in a fierce hurry and began to cut across the empty parking spaces. When I made my turn and looked up, there was the other car on course to T-bone the passenger side of my car. I slammed on my brakes. The other driver slammed on her brakes then started gesturing impatiently and, might I add, rudely, toward me. I turned to her and offered the universal gesture for “What THE are you doing?” (No, I did not “go nuclear” with the gesture, just to be clear.)
I went on by and then she continued to race across the parking lot without looking. She parked her car – but too far away for me to yell at her without sounding like a mad man myself. Then, she proceeded to go to the cart rack at Aldi, put in her quarter to unlock a cart, and go inside. As a further assault to civility and decency, she was wearing holiday decorated yoga pants and sweatshirt. Considered together, in my only slightly biased opinion influenced by our mutual near death experience at her hand, I thought her outfit looked like the hands-down winner of any ugly Christmas outfit contest on Earth…and I thought I might let her know that when we finally met in the store. Instead, I settled for glaring at her at every opportunity. And, yes, I did get that opportunity…twice. She ignored me.
I finally got the items I came for, couldn’t find anything else I didn’t come for, and gave up trying to make the badly dressed driver feel bad. I got in line and put my items on the belt – including a nearly two week fix…er supply…of Señor Rico. I chose this checkout line because I believed it would be faster than the line next to it where a woman was buying for a massive Christmas celebration and the items overflowed her cart.
Behind her was an elderly woman whom I had seen earlier holding a couple of canned items and scavenging for a small ham in the meat section. As the first woman, with the overflowing car, was just about to pay her bill, she told the clerk to put the second woman’s items on her bill and she did. At first, the second woman didn’t know what had happened until she tried to pay for the items. The Aldi clerk explained to the woman that the first woman had paid for her items. The elderly woman was shocked, began to thank the woman profusely, gave her a hug, and burst into tears. Together they went to the packing area together to bag up their bounty. Except that we are living in such divisive, hateful time, it should not be noteworthy that the first woman was black and the elderly woman was white.
Witnessing this powerful act of kindness washed away the anger I was feeling toward the badly dressed driver who nearly ran into me. Even more, it reminded me of the kind of person I aspire to be. I do not aspire to be the angry guy gesturing wildly to the bad driver. I do not aspire to be a judgmental fashion critic. I do not aspire to be the crazy guy that is looking up and down aisles in Aldi for a “chance” run in with the bad driver so I can glare at her. I aspire to be the person who kindly buys the groceries for another without judgment or expectation of gratitude.
This year’s Christmas Eve run to Aldi was more meaningful than most. I learned something about myself. I learned how easy it is in a world where incivility seems to be the norm once again to also default to incivility myself. Shortly after Thanksgiving I sent out an eblast to clients, colleagues, and friends that offered this aspirational thought: Peace on Earth starts with the simple acts of kindness, compassion, and civility we do and give to each other everyday.
I offer it again here but only as a reminder of my own humanity and of the kind of person I still aspire to be.
Whatever holidays you celebrate, celebrate them with joy.
Be greater, do good, everyday…change forward.