Friday, February 28, 2014

Space for Kindness

I am very aware of space.



Yesterday we stopped to pick up a few groceries so that we could make supper in our hotel room, which has a small kitchen. It's a nice little break between work and home, a distraction from thinking about and reviewing the events of the day. For me as a lecturer, sometimes it's hard to shake the sense of worry about my presentation, my message and my performance, so having something else to do provides a welcome mental break.

Joe had asked me to pick up money from the bank machine inside while he parked the car. I said that I would and that's what I did. The bank machine was placed against a wall in the area where people get carts and where people who'd finished shopping and were leaving the store would pass by. I was aware that it was a high traffic area so I pulled my chair round so it was sitting beside, lengthwise, the wall even though this made it a little more difficult for me to use. I didn't want to be in the way. I didn't want to block anyone's use of space.

I figure the world is better if everyone respects everyone else's space.

People were flowing by, both ways, as I got my card out and inserted it into the machine. I was pleased with myself because I clearly had parked well, clearly had left enough space. As I was punching in my PIN number a woman, with a cart stopped, made an 'I'm frustrated' gesture and glared at me. I looked at her and said, 'There's enough room. People have been passing, both ways, the whole time I've been here.' Then I went back to doing what I needed to do, even though I could feel her hostile gaze.

She's refusing to move.

She says, 'You people take up too much room.'

There is a line up of people forming behind her, they aren't looking at her, they are looking at me. Lovely. Freaking lovely. I get my money, put it in my wallet and now I want to leave. But I can't. She is blocking my way. I ask her politely to move on.

She won't.

The manager sees the line up and comes over to see the problem. I am ready to be identified as the problem. He looks at the space and after hearing her say I was blocking the way, he says, 'It looks to me as if he's left you plenty of room, please move out of everyone's way.' She doesn't. He says, 'I will get your cart through, She lets him take it and move it past me. Everyone else flows by, a couple say, 'Sorry,' which indicates that they saw that the problem wasn't me or the space I used.

As we were going through the store picking up the few things we needed I saw the manager and went to thank him. He just smiled and said, 'People can be odd.' I just nodded. Then he said, 'You must get tired, sometimes, of people who need to dump their issues on you.'

I don't know where he got that insight.

I don't know what he saw in that encounter.

But what he said mattered. Really mattered. When I remember this incident it will be because of his kindness and insight, not her aggression and hostility. There is no greater gift he could have given me.


pattib said...


Anonymous said...

After I finished reading this post - and being happy with/for you for the kind manager, I wondered whether the woman might not have had an invisible disability herself - the kind that doesn't adjust well to change.

You were assertive and spoke carefully and adjusted to the situation. Maybe she couldn't.

You never know about other people!

When I'm in my tiredest state, I try not to leave the house, but I've had to explain many a time over the phone that the person at the other end must cut me some slack because of my disability. They usually do, but often not until I tell them.

You can't tell by looking at me - until I open my mouth or try to move, I could be one of the able people.

It's a good thing the manager came over to help - all those people waiting with you chose not to help.


Kris S. said...

Ugh. Whenever you hear "You people", it's a safe bet that whatever comes after will be ugly.

Anonymous said...



I had to think about the scientific discovery that out of hundred encounters we remember the one that was with negative emotions.

I am glad that today for you it is the other way around.


Anonymous said...

It is so good to hear that the manager "got" the situation and called her on it...sounds as if she wanted to make her problem, your problem. I'm glad she didn't get to do that.

Jayne Wales said...

I just find it incredible that people can say these things. If it is another form of hidden disability I would think you are perceptive enough to know that. I hope I can tell when someone has a problem and someone has just been plain nasty as I generally look for that first. Anyway, needless to say, hidden disability or not it is offensive and the other person does need to get some help with coping mechanisms if they have a problem as you have had to learn to compromise too. Maybe just learning to say I have a disability that makes it difficult for me to cope with this. Might be a load of rubbish what I'm saying as that might just not be possible.

Anonymous said...

Sounds as if the manager has seen that sort of thing before. Not bad that he realised what the real problem was. Pretty good that he said so.

tekeal said...

what a relief and indeed, a gift, to have your experience mirrored back to you through his seeing what truly is. i sighed a huge breath of relief when i read this so i can only imagine how that was for you. grateful.