“I ain’t givin’ you nuthin’.” I thought this immediately and unabashedly towards the nasty man next in line at my checkout today. Immediately after greeting the lovely young woman who was right in front of me, I turned to greet him as the person next in line. I’ve been taught that it’s good practice to let them know that you see them and are looking forward to serving them, especially if they have been waiting a while and the order in front of them is somewhat extensive. But greeting this sixtyish guy – well dressed, neatly trimmed beard – did not apparently serve the desired purpose: he only scowled and snarled some words that I couldn’t make out.
This threw me off center. My mood had improved over the course of the day from pretty depressed in the morning . But my more upbeat mood felt fairly vulnerable – dealing with this hostile man could throw me way off my game. I immediately devised a plan. I would pay as little attention as possible to this nasty bird, instead focusing all my attention on the lovely young woman. I would milk as many good vibes as possible from connecting with her – and be filled up with good energy when I needed to deal with him.
The first leg of this strategy went well. The girl was totally charming and the connection between us was very positive. I did think, with some measure of delight, that seeing the sweetness unfolding between us might rub this guy’s nose in his own sourness. By the time she finished up and left, I did feel solid and ready to do battle with this codger.
But the battle I had prepared for did not materialize. The guy was not mean or nasty – more just limp and self-involved. I followed through on my plan of giving him nothing: I did the basic business questions: “Do you have a frequent shopper number or coupons or discounts with us? Are you a student or teacher?” (student and teacher discount day) He answered a glum “No” on all counts. His order was small and processed quite quickly – then he was gone.
What had happened? This guy who had started out so hostile, when he reached the head of the line presented just quiet and maybe a little defeated.
About 35 years ago, my wife and I lived in a cute little farmhouse on the shore of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. It was sweet living in the country, but there were elements of country living for which we were unprepared.. One of these was the bat in our house. One night, well after dark, my wife ran to me in the living room and somewhat hysterically announced that there was a bat in our bedroom. I felt a swelling of male bravado and went to the kitchen where I picked up our broom, christened it Excalibur and headed for the bedroom. But my challenger was not easily dispatched. I missed him again and again and his attempts to elude me had him sometimes flying just above my head. Had you asked me, I would probably have denied that I also had gotten kind of hysterical – but it would have been pretty much the truth.
I had closed the bedroom door so that the bat could not escape to other parts of house, but there were moments when I regretted the intense battle to the death. I really did not think that the bat had the wherewithal to kill me, but who knows what impact all those vampire movies were having on me. Finally I landed a direct hit, crushing the bat between the broom and the ceiling, and he crumpled to the floor. I pushed him around with the broom and he seemed to definitely be dead. Killed him with one blow – attaboy Majo. (Never mind the couple dozen missed swings.)
And what was the most salient element as I surveyed my vanquished foe? How very, very small he was – a mouse with wings. So fragile that one good shot with a broom killed him. I felt tremendously sheepish for how much anger and anxiety I had directed towards him. What kind of threat had he actually ever been?
And so what of my would-be nemesis in the grocery store checkout line? To what extent had he ever actually been a threat? What about his scowl and snarl from half-way down the line? Were they actually directed at me? Did I read his non-verbal signals correctly at all? Did he simply have gas? Or did his mood mellow as he moved towards me? Did he ask himself, “Why am I so angry at this cashier?” Did watching the lovely dance between me and the young woman in front of him have some kind of impact? It could have increased his depression, if that’s what we was wrestling with.
I want to remember this story in a package with my bat story. I want to not respond with hostility or aggression towards supposed foes who may actually be no threat at all. I want to observe my own anxiety and see if I can ground myself, discover a peaceful place in myself. I want to ask myself “Does this person need to be my enemy?”
I want to remember the coaching from A Course in Miracles that every person is always either offering love or asking for love. Including each customer. Including me.