I had been at home in Georgia watching my mom slowly die on a hospital bed in our family living room for two weeks. She had been placed in Hospice care due to complications from breast cancer treatments, heart disease and a slew of other ailments that eventually led to our sofa being moved out and a makeshift care ward being moved in.
Days were spent dosing Mom with liquid morphine and forcibly shoving Xanax down her quickly withering throat to keep her from having panic attacks when the congestion in her lungs built up so much that she couldn’t breathe without the aid of a nebulizer and oxygen tank.
During that time I had to go out to get supplies from the store — toilet paper, dog food, garbage bags — I stood in line waiting patiently with my items when the cashier closed her register right before I had a chance to pay. I didn’t say anything, or even give her a dirty look, but inside it felt like she had just hit me in the face with a sledgehammer … everything felt like that at that time.
I turned to take my place behind the woman at the register next to me who had her own collection of things to buy.
“Would you like to go ahead of me?”
I couldn’t reply. I knew that any word that came out of my mouth would turn into a full-on public breakdown. So I just smiled at her and put my things on the counter. I paid, turned to smile at her again, and left to have my breakdown privately in the parking lot.
In that moment, that sweet woman saved my life in a way she will never understand. I was so broken, so raw and that simple act … her seeing something in my demeanor, on my face, that inspired her to wait those extra few seconds to let me go first … there are simply no words to express the magnitude of what she did for me.
She had no idea what was going on in my life, or why buying that stuff and getting out of that store as quickly as possible was so important to me, but she stepped aside and let me go through. And it has had a profound impact on me ever since.
I remembered all of this when a friend of mine posted a photo on Facebook of an MTA employee who had fallen asleep on the train. He took up two seats as he napped during rush hour, which meant one extra commuter had to stand. The point was to show how inconsiderate he was and make an example of him online.
But instead of being incensed by the picture, I started to think about why he was so tired. Had he worked all night trying to keep the trains running? Did he have 4 kids at home who kept him awake during the day when he needed to sleep for his late shift? Was his mom sick and dying, too?
Maybe he’s just exhausted and fell asleep at the beginning of the line … way out in the boroughs before the train got packed. Perhaps if she had just said, “Excuse me, may I sit down?” instead of surreptitiously taking his picture to display on the Internet, he would have happily, sleepily and perhaps with a little embarrassment, shifted over and put his bag in his lap where it was supposed to be.
People. Give other people the benefit of the doubt. Do not assume you know the whole story from a 3 second glimpse into a person’s life. Be kind. Don’t judge.
And every once in a while let a stranger go in front of you at the store. You just might save a life.