Angry Stranger’s Gift

angry stranger, gift of impatience, tolerance, soul moment,

Years ago I waited in a convenience store line in complete desperation. I was still bleeding after giving birth to my daughter and needed pads. The customer ahead of me was working her way into a snit because the store was out of an item she wanted. She refused to buy similar products the clerk offered. I stood behind this customer trying to keep from judging her (and failing). She was middle-aged or older, wearing expensive clothes and fussily styled hair, but what really defined her was the kind of self-absorption that turns a minor inconvenience into a personal offense. She demanded someone check the back room where she was sure the product languished due to employee laziness. She demanded to see the manager, who wasn’t there. She. Wouldn’t. Leave.

I was so exhausted that I simply wanted to curl up on the floor. It was the first time I’d left my baby’s hospital bed for more than a few minutes. My newborn suffered from a serious malady that hadn’t yet been diagnosed. She was increasingly losing weight and vigor. All the while I missed my three-year-old fiercely. I hadn’t seen him for days aside from brief hugs in the parking lot. I spent all my time by my baby’s side. It was a triumph when I could get her to nurse for a few moments. Sleep deprived and terrified for my baby girl, I clung onto hope like a parasite.

The customer ahead of me was now yelling. I assumed she’d had no greater trouble in her life than being deprived of a convenience store product. I realized that she may have been older than my own mother, but she had less maturity than my firstborn who knew enough to respect other people and more importantly, to care about them.

I’d been in the hospital environment for so many days that simply driving to the store was a sensory overload. Bright sunlight, traffic, people engaged in daily activities were all so overwhelming that I felt like a tourist visiting for the first time. Maybe that’s why I felt a sudden tenderness for the customer ahead of me. It was as if some surface reality melted away to expose this woman’s beautiful soul. I didn’t know if she was going through a difficulty that left her frantic to have her needs, any needs, recognized. Or if she had experienced so few difficulties that she hadn’t developed any tolerance for disappointment. It didn’t matter. I saw her as utterly perfect. In that moment I felt nothing less than love.

Just then she whirled around and left. I exchanged a look of solidarity with the clerk, made my purchase, and drove back to the hospital. That encounter not only gave me a powerful surge of energy, it also boosted my spirits in a way I can’t explain. It was a boost that lasted. All these years later I remain grateful.

11 thoughts on “Angry Stranger’s Gift

  1. This is so beautiful. Halfway through, I was thinking, “I wonder what troubled that woman in her heart that she was so angry?” … and then you finished the story in the way you did and I wanted to reach through the screen and hug you. Thank you so much for sharing this.


    • Nice thought ChangeHeart, but I’m still working on calling my higher self. Mostly I’m just as impatient as anyone else. I think this moment illuminates what we can be, and sometimes desperation gets us there faster than all the prayers/affirmations/work we do.


    • I love to think this moment of mine brings you peace, PoetryRainGirl. Interesting that you mention what might have prompted me to share this now. I think I’m frustrated with myself, which may have brought this experience to mind.


  2. I had an opposite situation happen. I took my husband to the ER with pneumonia expecting him to need some fluids and antibiotics for a few hours. Instead he was admitted to the ICU when they realized he was septic. After he was somewhat settled I ran to a nearby grocery store to grab a few things for my unexpected hospital stay. The person in front of me told me to go ahead since I just had a couple things. I almost stopped to tell her my situation and how glad I was but I was so rushed that I didn’t. It was probably a small thing to her that she doesn’t even remember doing. But I don’t think I will ever forget the kindness she showed me when she had no idea the stress and fear I was feeling.


    • I think at times of extreme stress our perceptions are different. Everything seems to take on larger importance. You may have been offered the same go-ahead-of-me favor many times (and offered it to others) but in a crisis the experience took on deeper significance. It reaffirmed to you that things can go right exactly when you needed it. We never know, the kindnesses any of us show others on a regular basis may restore their hope too.


  3. Everyday life is full of “roadblocks” like this one. Your post is an example of how life is subjective, how the way we interpret things is all that counts. I gave birth to a child with a major birth defect, and the moments and years that followed were painful to the extreme. I lost almost everyone, except my child and my parents. In the end I also lost my child, though not to death..only unforgiveness from him for my not meeting his expectations. When you are in the middle of such an event, be assured that your visceral feelings are of utmost importance. Your compassion is a result of your experience, showing itself so very soon, It takes your breath away. You are in the Hand of God, in the Heart of Your Divine Self.


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