I was witness to an older woman’s attempt at conversation in the hospital cafeteria the other day. She was trying to talk to the younger man at the checkout counter while she was paying for her meal, whereas he was just in a hurry to get done with her. There were no long lines of people waiting behind her to pay, so he could have taken the very short amount of time she seemed to need, to listen and perhaps to say a few kind words. Acknowledge her, in other words. She seemed like a nice older woman who perhaps had family members that were sick, or perhaps she herself was sick. It was hard to tell. What was clear to me was that she needed some warmth from others. It would have been a kind gesture to have tried to give some warmth. My heart goes out to people like that. She ended up apologizing for taking up his time, which then softened his attitude toward her a bit. Of course, there are always multiple ways to look at a situation. So I will try to reinterpret the above situation in several other ways:
- Perhaps the young man at the checkout counter was having a bad day and did not have the extra energy to extend himself.
- Perhaps he had been told by his superiors not to waste too much time talking to customers as it would hold up the line of people waiting to pay. This was a problem in one other hospital cafeteria and was solved by removing the person who talked too much to the customers.
- Perhaps the older woman had been a bit pushy with him before I got in line behind her. But I have to admit by looking at her, that she didn’t seem the type. She rather seemed worried, weary and a bit defeated, like life had worn her down.
Whatever the explanation, I wonder if it isn’t simpler to just opt for extending oneself for one teensy weensy second out of a universe of seconds. To expand one’s heart ‘three sizes’, as what happened to the Grinch in How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and to err on the side of compassion and friendliness. To light one candle in the darkness of someone else’s life. God knows we may need the same one day—and how nice it would be if someone’s kindness was the light we needed to get through yet another tough day.