Something I am ashamed of: I was in the airport in Rome around September of last year. I had been traveling, at that point, for a month and a half to different cities around the world, teaching photography. On this particular day, I had just spent the night prior sleeping on a cardboard sign in the arrivals level of the airport in Rome, due to a booking issue that forced me to wait until the next day to take my flight to Turkey. When I woke up from my half-slumber, I was tired, angry, annoyed, and hungry. I went upstairs, checked in to my gate, and went up to a cafe.
It’s a bit of a blur now, but I remember ordering a coffee and a pastry of some sort, and taking it over to a table near the cafe so that I could work from my computer while I tried to compose myself for the day. The next moment I remember was filled with a very stern and swift talking to by the cashier, informing me that I was in the “restaurant” that didn’t belong to the cafe, and I would need to leave and eat elsewhere.
I lost my face at her.
“What do you mean!? I have to leave? You’re right here. Right here. The cafe is literally right next to this table. I can’t just - I just paid for this. I need a table to work at. I’ve been traveling and I just spent the night in the airport and - you know what? Fine. Fine. F**k. I’ll leave. Thanks for pissing me off.” The whole airport within a 50 foot radius was looking at me.
I’ve never, ever treated a stranger like this in my entire life. Not before, and not after. I walked away from the altercation fuming, took my coffee and my pastry and sat 100 meters away from the cafe in the airport seating area. I ate my food. I drank my coffee. I sat and fumed some more. And as the anger subsided, the pain and shame of how I had just acted washed over my heart… and it hit me, hard. That wasn’t me. That’s not who I am.
I swallowed my pride and carried my dishes back to the cashier, carrying 5 euros in my pocket to give her as an additional tip for me treating her like a scumbag. I laid it on the table and told her that I was sorry - she didn’t deserve to be treated the way I treated her. No one does. She looked at me and smiled, told me she forgave me, and told me that she understood - some people just have harder days than others. The grace was immense.
I had this great piece of advice given to me by my fiancée’s uncle a few months ago. It read to the effect of “whenever you get mad at someone or something, wait 15 minutes before acting on it. There’s a part of your brain that deactivates when you get angry, and it causes you to make irrational choices and say irrational things. Instead, wait 15 minutes for the switch to go back on and reason to be more present in your thought process for the action you take.”
I wish I had those 15 minutes back for every person I’ve ever gotten angry with.
15 minutes for my parents when I was a jerky teen, who were getting cash together for me to apply for college.
15 minutes for my friend whose parents were going through a divorce.
15 minutes for the guy I screamed at for running the stop sign, who’s daughter was in the hospital.
15 minutes for my fiancée, who often gets the brunt of my crappy attitude - and is often struggling with the pain of moving to a new country.
15 minutes for me to remember that I am not the only nor the most important character in my world, and that other people in my world also have their own story - their own pain - their own hopes, dreams, difficulties. We are not alone as we walk through life, and those around us carry both the joy and the difficulty that we do as well. This is something I struggle to do many days - especially because on any given day, I’m incredibly focused but also incredibly willing to cut out any unnecessary junk from my life. Unfortunately, sometimes my kindness goes out with the junk, too.
If there’s anything I’ve figured out on how to get around this difficulty in life, it’s to remember not to take things personally. If you’ve ever heard of The Four Agreements, the book talks about the very important idea of not taking the things that threaten your modus operandi for the day personally nor as an attack on who you are or on your character. This simple idea has helped me overcome difficulty in many areas of my life - but especially, it has helped me not to be quick to anger. Even Jesus had words for the denizens of the first century - “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you.”
You’ll never know what is behind the sharp tongue of the stranger in the hardware store. You’ll never know why the woman at the checkout can’t look you in the eye. You’ll never be able to understand the pain that a stranger is going through. Have you ever been mistreated on a day where your pain was just too unbearable to handle even more? It is the least best feeling in the world. I remember the kindness of the stranger on the phone for Hawaiian Airlines, when my grandfather passed away last year and I needed to get on a plane sooner than I had expected. She waived all of the fees for me to change my flight and I was able to be with my family to grieve the loss of a man who taught me so much about joy. I’ll never forget the way that person treated me in such a vulnerable time of my life.
We have the opportunity, each day, to change the world around us by growing the beauty in others, instead of fostering the hate that we try so hard to store in our own hearts. The hardest battle we face is being sensitive to the battles of others. If you and I can unlock that sensitivity in our own hearts, and act on it as we move through life, I believe we can do a world of good for the world around us.
In all battles, make sure your sword shines with the glow of kindness.
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