Have you ever had one of those moments when you did something that a few minutes after you thought, “What just happened to me?” That happened to me today. Just like many of you, I didn’t start out my day cranky, but found myself going through a series of minor hassles and stresses stacked up one after the other until the next person I saw really did not receive me at my best. Turns out it was a young airline agent who was trying to help me get my bags checked in. Unfortunately for her, she had to instruct me to go to another line (after I had already been jostled and transferred and was beginning to think that I would swear off air travel). I confess that while I did not give her a scathing dose of verbal vitriol, my exasperated look and abrupt departure left her in no doubt that I was NOT a happy camper and that somehow I thought it was her fault. She had no idea that she was just bearing the brunt of what really amounted to several small inconveniences I had experienced prior to arriving in her presence.
So, with a grumble and a petulant gait, I ambled over to the next line expecting even more problems. (Isn’t it funny how sometimes just the atmosphere in an airport can breed discontent?) But, as I stood there I heard the voice of my mother in my head whispering a well-worn verse I remember from my childhood…
“All of us in this life are brothers, none goes this way alone. All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.”
Perhaps I’m paraphrasing that line a bit, but it was in that moment I thought, “What did I just send into the life of that young woman?” Negativity, censure, disappointment… and she had done nothing. My solution? I changed my demeanor right then. I smiled at the next agent and completed my baggage process. But more importantly, I walked back to that young woman at the ticket counter and I apologized. She was gracious, but I insisted that I was not at my best and I was wrong to take it out on her… (and then I did give her a piece of chocolate in case my personal confession wasn’t sufficient!)
This can be a reminder to all of us that there is no substitute for civility and kindness in our society today. In a hurting world there is always a need for grace and mercy no matter what hardships we have experienced in our lives. And I think we best model Christ’s image when we are ever mindful of what we send into the lives of those we encounter on our life’s journey each and every day. I am grateful God gave me a “do-over” with that young woman today. And I pray that in the future I will work harder to get it right the first time!
Jenny Michael, of Pensacola, Florida, is the churchwide president of Women of the ELCA.