The shiny spring day matched my mood. I literally was in a good place—the garden center of my local Lowe’s store. To add to the bliss of the occasion, I’d managed to score the last garden cart.
Although the sunny, windless day seemed ideal for planting, experience with Oklahoma weather told me it was still too early to place any tender vegetation into the ground. So, anxious to dig in the dirt, I was following the gardening advice of experts and picking up supplies to prepare my soil. I pushed the cart right next to the forty-pound bags of compost and managed, without too much strain, to slide it onto the cart.
Close by, a man and a woman—I’d say late forties, early fifties—were deliberating on which fertilizer to buy. As I reached for my second bag of compost, the woman hurried over, saying, “Let me help you with that.” Giving me no time to respond, she heaved the second bag of compost on top of the first one and said, “How many bags do you need?”
Now, I’ll bet you think you know where this post is going. That I’m going to write about the kindness of a complete stranger. That her generosity and willingness to help warmed my heart and gilded the already shiny moment. That I thanked her with an offer of coffee at a nearby Starbucks and now we’re friends on social media.
Well, you’d be wrong.
The woman had cast a shadow on my sunny day, and my immediate reaction was one of irritation. Did this woman think I was too old and feeble to lift those sacks by myself? Did I look that frail and helpless? Obviously this woman hadn’t read any of my posts about my exercise community and hadn’t seen my Facebook profile picture—the one where I’m performing my tricky yoga pose. I suppressed the urge to challenge her to a planking contest right in the middle of the soil improvement aisle.
|In case you've missed it, my tricky yoga pose.|
Instead, I replied to her question with “That’s plenty.” Then with an admittedly chilly “Thank you,” I walked away. As I maneuvered toward the checkout line, I ohyahed (defined by my friend Shel Harrington as thinking of the perfect retort . . . too late). I should’ve told that woman I needed ten bags and watched with satisfaction as she worked up a sweat loading them onto the cart. Of course, then I would’ve never been able to push the cart out of the store. But that’s beside the point.
Please stay with me. I promise there’s more to this post than a whiny rant.
The incident spurred much reflection and introspection on my part, which eventually polished away the tarnish. First, by the time I’d gone through checkout, I’d had a friendly chat with the lady in line in front of me and with the cashier. Neither had reacted to me as if I were feeble-bodied or feeble-brained. Why should I let the actions of one person spoil a perfectly shiny day?
Second, what had the woman in question done that was so bad? She’d truly thought she was being helpful. With my full head of gray hair and with no make-up, I’m sure I’d supported her assumptions that I was old (correct) and needed assistance (incorrect). I’d let my ego get in the way of being gracious.
Finally, I had to reflect on the times I’ve made similar errors based on stereotypes. How many times have I allowed outward appearances to dictate my assessment of someone’s abilities and to influence my response toward them? More than I care to remember.
By the time I arrived home and unloaded those two bags of compost, I’d cooled down and was able to laughingly recount the incident to my husband. (Who, btw, has no reservations about my ability to do yard work and heavy lifting.) And, although I’m reluctant to reveal it, here’s the kicker: Before going to bed that night, I had to take a pill to relieve my aching back. Maybe I should’ve let that lady load both bags of compost . . . and follow me home and unload them. My ego might’ve been a bit bruised, but I could’ve saved myself some physical pain.
A FUN NOTE! That term my clever friend Shel coined? She has an entire book of quinbloits—words that cover situations we all face as we age. You’ll be hearing more from me about Over 50, Defined, which debuts on April 30!