How I Sometimes Remember NOT Be An A$$hole
Caroline died tragically in a car crash my junior year of high school. It was a profound tragedy.
A head on collision on a two lane road. Both drivers died.
Caroline was 17 years old.
Caroline was an absolute light. She was beautiful, sweet, genuine. Girls wanted to be her, boys wanted to date her.
She illuminated this energy that made everyone smile. And she smiled, all of the time.
I smile now as I write this. I hope you are all lucky enough to meet someone like Caroline.
If you have already, you know what I mean.
Caroline was special.
Mrs. Morrison, Caroline’s mother, taught journalism at our school and was the most favored, popular and highly regarded teachers.
As a student it was a privilege to eat lunch or stay after school in her room.
She treated us like adults which is all you really desire as a teenager.
At the funeral there were hundreds of people. The church was packed so poeple waited outside. Lining sidewalk and flooding into the street.
The entire school attended and it seemed like the entire city of Corpus Christi came too.
The casket passed me in slow motion. It seemed like forever.
This box was all brown and wooden and hard. I couldn’t take it.
I imagined my beautiful friend inside the box. How could they just put her into a box like that? A BOX!
That was a really hard day.
Caskets are a horrible vessel.
For the next few weeks a few of us rotated in and out of Mrs. Morrison’s house. She was a shell back then and hardly spoke.
But she loved the visits from students and friends and insisted that we stop by again tomorrow each time we said our goodbyes.
We knew she just wanted the company. To feel a little closer to Caroline by being surrounded by her friends.
We talked about Caroline a lot. We laughed at the flip flops she wore the day she died, a freezing day in December.
There was ice on the ground. She was smiling. Caroline was always smiling.
“Aren’t you freezing!” I asked.
Caroline smiled and said, “Everyone keeps asking me that. I just love these flip flops. I just got them and they are so comfy.”
Three hours later Caroline would be dead on the side of the road. No more flip flops.
I remember being at a restaurant with Mrs. Morrison days after Caroline’s death. It was a sandwich shop, a order at the counter, take a number and wait setup.
Mrs. Morrison approached the woman at the register, still staring down at her menu. She went to speak then paused and fumbled her words.
Most of the time Mrs. Morrison stared into space like her eyeballs were turned backward and she could see the inside of her head instead of what was in front of her.
Making decisions, any decision at this point was impossible.
“Umm… well, maybe not that…” Mrs. Morrison muffled.
The woman at the register tapped her pen and sighed.
This caught my attention.
She tapped her pen again. This time it was followed by a loud moan.
Mrs. Morrison began again, “I think I’ll take…”
The woman interrupted…
“You’re holding up the line. Step aside. I have other customers waiting.”
The woman motioned her hand to the side like a she was directing traffic.
Then she raised her eyebrows and yelled, “Next!”
I was stunned. I watched this interaction and immediately wanted to cry.
Mrs. Morrison was at the end of days back then. Nothing mattered anymore and the cruel world was just another example of the futility of it all.
My turn to order came and I promised I would inform the poor cashier woman of the damage she had caused.
I’ve always been one to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and this would be another lesson for me to deliver to the world.
Treat others nicely. You never know what they are going through.
But, I said nothing to the cashier woman.
Because the lesson was not meant for her. The lesson was meant for me.
And now I want to share it with you.
You never know. Even when you think you know, you don’t.
This is not easy to remember. It takes practice. Lots and lots of practice.
I still suck at it most days. But other days I remember.
Sometimes I even remember the entire day. On these days I am infinitely grateful.
I am present and aware. And each interaction I have I imagine the person is Mrs. Morrison. Broken and lifeless after losing her only child.
When imagine this, the world makes a lot more sense. I feel like I know people I have never met. I feel like I can feel their pain. And everyone has pain.
This allows me to be patient, forgiving and kind.
On the flip side, when I neglect the lives of others and focus only on what I need to accomplish I become a rude and short tempered jerk.
I cut people off in traffic.
I rush around slow people in the supermarket like they are obstacles in a ninja warrior race.
I am short when my friends call to ask if I’m coming to dinner tonight.
“I don’t know yet. I’m busy and it’s 4 pm!” I bite back.
I would never talk to Mrs. Morrison this way. Ever.
And that is why this is an important practice to have. You must always imagine that everyone is Mrs. Morrison. Everyone you encounter has a child that died yesterday.
Imagine a world full of Mrs. Morrison’s and you’ll be guided to bring love and kindness everywhere you go.
You won’t do this all the time. You will forget most days. I do.
In order to help me remember I like to make a list of possible scenarios.
I get creative with the circumstances and pull ideas from books and movies.
Tragedy is all over the place so it’s easy to find examples. Here is a list of options for you to use:
1. His mother was beaten and raped last Sunday
2. She was raped by a man who broke into her house last night.
3. His 4 year old daughter and wife were killed by a drunk driver
4. She is has brain cancer, 2 months to live and a newborn baby boy
5. Her husband committed suicide last week
6. Her son committed suicide last month
7. She wants to commit suicide today
I know these are morbid. That’s the point.
They are also common traumas that occur every single day. And you have no idea if these circumstances describe the person you flipped off in traffic this morning.
So put on your Mrs. Morrison glasses. And take a look around.
The point is to remind you. To remind me, to remind us all that you never know what someone is going through. Taking the time to acknowledge this before you enter any social engagement will change your life.
Because the more you practice the more you empathize with people and are able to better understand their behavior.
Someone is ignoring your calls. Someone doesn’t laugh at your jokes, ignores your inquiry about their new grandchild.
Someone asks if you are doing ok but then walks away before you respond.
Take yourself out of the equation.
Look at the person and imagine they have just found out they have terminal cancer.
They have 1 month to live and have yet to share the news with their partner and 3 children.
Still upset about them ignoring your call?
Didn’t think so.