I had a very instructive lesson the day before this last holiday, which helped prepare me for the usual gauntlet of emotions I go through on holidays, because my mother is gone since 1998 and no one else seems to have been able to replace her.

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I was in line at the La Montañita Co-op in Albuquerque, the new one on the west side of town, and the woman in front of me at the counter suddenly said, “Oh, I want to get my bag” (meaning, the reusable plastic
grocery shopping bag we’re all supposed to remember and never do) – and she walked out the door, sauntered out to her car half-way down the parking lot swinging her hips and long black hair, took a while to get it, and sauntered back, while the cashier, a man, had now long since rung up her six purchases.

During this display of unmitigated chutzpah, I commented to the cashier and the guy behind me that I was ready to kill her. The cashier shrugged, which annoyed me, but the guy behind me, a tall young athletic man, launched into a praising of the store’s salad bar and how much he was looking forward to eating the plate of greens he had — which included lumpy raw pieces of broccoli – but an interesting dressing — and he just kept singing the praises of salad until finally I lightened up.

So then I said to the cashier, a placid man in his early 30s, “I suppose if you get annoyed by every customer, you’d never make it through the day,” to which he agreed and smiled, and said he just agrees and smiles, and then the guy behind me, said, “Oh yes, I always feel much better when I just smile at them.”

When the woman came back in the store, she was smiling and with a childlike pride holding up her bag. Instead of launching into her, as I was about to do, I smiled back.

Then as she approached I realized she was much, much older than I’d thought — she might be 75 or more from the lines on her face, though from the back I’d thought 45. And what I realized was, she might have had absolutely no clue as to how inappropriate her behavior had been – she probably saw herself as the object of adoring gazes — and perhaps had an as yet undiagnosed neurological problem.

I was just stunned by the turnabout of the situation. Instead of my spending the rest of the day berating myself for overreacting and ripping into this woman, which I might very likely have done, I pondered just how important it is to see what other people are doing, and why, and while it may be that they are completely narcissistic, it has nothing to do with me, and in fact they can use some compassion — which the two guys around me seemed to have, or at least their approach allowed for some objective distance from what other people do.

I remind myself of this story as I could use this lesson today. I am also thankful that I was surrounded by some insistent angels looking after me there at that grocery store.