Beneath the Surface

The other day, I took the kids to the pool to go swimming and so I could get some studying done for my teacher training program. Since there’s fewer distractions there, I often get more work done at the pool than I do at home. We laid our stuff out on a couple of lounge chairs, I sunscreened my kids, sent them off, and settled in with Virgil. Next to me were two women who had a cross country team’s worth of kids between them. From the moment I sat down until the moment they left, all I heard was constant complaining and rudeness from one of the moms.

She complained about some signage at the pool — three different times, extensively. She complained about her kids to her friend. She complained about other kids to her kids. Each time one of her children would come out from the water to talk to her, she would say to her friend, “Oh, God. Here they come again.” And when her kids would ask her a question, she was rude and condescending and sarcastic, and not in a fun, you’re-in-on-the-joke kind of way.

I actually texted a friend that it was all I could do not to just turn to this woman and let her have it; that I wanted to reach across our lounge chairs and smack her (spoiler: I didn’t).

This complaining and whining went on for about two full hours. I didn’t get much productive studying done; I just proceeded to get more and more irritated. Kill-you-off-messily-in-my-novel irritated. Hulk-Kristen-nearly-showed-up irritated.

Then, it happened.

As they were packing up to leave, one of her kids said something about how another kid had treated them, and the mom said, “Well, you know,” in this harsh, biting voice, “we’re not in Asheville anymore. People here are just different.”

And that was it. That was the moment I realized that this mom was grieving. Big time. And I had misjudged. She wasn’t just being a huge bitch. I mean, she was kind of being a bitch, sure, but underneath that bitchiness? There was pain and hurt and grief and loneliness and fear. And a whole bunch of other things, I’m sure.

Does that excuse her behavior? No. She was wrong. But man, have I been there so many times — so, so many times. And in worse ways than that. How many times have I lashed out in fear? How many times have I hurt someone to cover up my grief? Seven times? Seventy times? Seventy times seven times? Pretty sure I did it today. And the day before. There’s a really good chance I’ll do it tomorrow.

And I’m so glad I didn’t say anything to her, that I kept my mouth shut, that I never did smack her, and that I was kind to her kid when he spilled his pirate booty all over my stuff. Because what she needed was not for some random mom to tell her to cut it out and “OMG, will you please shut up,” which sounded glorious in my head. She needed love. She needed grace. And I didn’t give it.

I am so bad at this. I rile easily. I react quickly. I get worked up fast. I don’t shy away from a fight. And while I’m rather fond of these things about myself, they’re not always wise, they’re not always virtuous, and they’re not always loving (OK, probably almost never loving). I’m growing and maturing and learning to be patient — not because the patience in and of itself is a worthy goal, but because by being patient — by waiting — I can see people and situations for what they really are. It’s having eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to love.

Instead of judgment, I should extend compassion. Instead of queueing up anger, I should stockpile peace. I’m still learning.

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