I spent the better part of yesterday complaining. At 3 AM, I complained about being awakened to clean up the dog poop on the rug because I was 30 seconds too late to let my dog out the door. At 3:30 AM, I complained when aforementioned dog poop clogged my toilet, and a plunger did not rectify the problem. At 6AM, I complained because my puppy peed in my bathroom, and then whimpered to be let outside. At 7 AM, I complained when my hubby snuggled with my kids instead of building a fire and making them breakfast. At 8 AM, I complained about my windshield being covered in a sheet of ice and snow, wipers trapped, even though The Hubby had started warming the van up 15 minutes beforehand. From 8:20 until 9:40 AM, I complained about the stopped line of cars that caused me to be an hour late for an important appointment.
You get the point – it was one of those days, and I chose to wallow in the unpleasantness that I found at every turn.
Driving around Albuquerque, grumbling like The Grinch, I found myself impeded by another accident. This one was a two-car collision, in which the first car was an older model with streamers and soaped windows announcing “JUST MARRIED!”
As I sat there with little else to do, except rap my fingers impatiently against the steering wheel, I looked over at the bus stop and saw a man with his arm around his partner. They were snuggled together and smiling while waiting for the bus to arrive. I have sat at lots of bus stops, often while thinking, “The bus is late.” “I’m cold.” “I’m hot.” “I have a bazillion things I should be doing, and this is not one of them.” But not these folks. They were cuddled up and genuinely enjoying this moment when they had nowhere else they could be. They were there, waiting for the bus, and that moment was being valued for exactly what it was.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not always such a grouch. This day would probably have seemed much less cataclysmic if it had not begun with misplaced fecal matter at 3AM, but by the time I sat watching this couple, the dog poop was history, and I hadn’t let it go. In my state of mind, I expected the worst, and I got it. I had a brief glimpse of my errant perspective as I looked at the perfectly pleasant people waiting, just as I was waiting. Instead of feeling frustrated by the wait, they found a way to enjoy it. I turned up my music and enjoyed that moment, too.
However, that was only a momentary change in my perspective. I was still expecting the worst, and I continued to get it. I returned home from my errands to find The Hubby hobbling around in the driveway after injuring his back. Cowboy smashed Sergeant Princess’s fingers in a door. There were tears and blood, and everyone was unhappy.
The family had a few more errands to run (including an emergency chiropractic visit). As we drove up and down the mountain, we noticed a woman in tattered shorts, an ancient coat, and oversized shoes, carrying a thin blanket in her arms and a canvas shopping bag on her back. She was trudging through snow and slush on her way up the mountain. At 2:30, we wondered what she was doing. At 3:30, she was only a mile further up the road, and we wondered where she could possibly be going. At 5:30, the sun was setting, and she was just on the outskirts of civilization, facing 20 miles of open high desert terrain, snow, and sub-freezing temperatures.
At that point, we stopped and asked if she’d like a ride. She said she would. We invited her to sit in the front passenger seat, but she offered to ride in the cargo area. I insisted that she sit in the front. We asked where she was going, and she replied, “North.” We drove her to the outskirts of the next town, where she asked that we drop her off. She was pleased to see that she only had a mile to go toward town, and that the walk would be downhill, but she had planned to camp outdoors and didn’t want to go into town until morning.
About halfway through the trip, though, she turned around to look at all our little chattering children, and quietly and exasperatedly muttered, “Man, what a life!”
I’m sure we made no lasting impact on her, but she certainly gave me the gift of perspective. She had nothing but the clothes on her back, and the prospect of a cold night on hard ground, but she would not trade it for another, nor would she accept the few dollars my husband offered. She was happy with what she had, even if some would say she had nothing.
It made me reflect on my day – Why did I get up with my dogs in the wee hours? One is dying of bone cancer, and the puppy survived a coyote attack the day before. I am healthy enough to take care of these animals when they need me.
Why was I stuck in traffic twice? Because there was one very serious accident with life threatening injures, and one minor accident involving a newlywed couple who likely could not afford unexpected car repairs. I was stopped in traffic, but if I had not been delayed by frozen windshield wipers or building fires, perhaps I would have been involved in that serious accident instead.
Why was my afternoon turned upside down? Because The Hubby, who had snuggled with my children, warmed my car for me, and is desperately trying to get my greenhouse completed, mildly injured his back while working to improve our family’s home. Sergeant Princess and Cowboy were playing happily together in a warm home when she hurt her finger, but you know what? My children are happy, playful, and above all, healthy.
One can always choose a path of dissatisfaction, regardless of one’s blessings. One can also choose a path of joy, regardless of one’s misfortunes. It is a choice that we have the opportunity to make during every moment of our lives. I am thankful that I was reminded of this yesterday by strangers unaware of their impact on my day.
Lessons from strangers are not like candy from strangers. Take them, enjoy them, thank the giver, and cherish them for life.