Think twice and forgive

The parking lot at our local Trader Joe’s is always a disaster, but during our winter from hell, the snow piled up and the lot got even smaller and harder to navigate; tempers frayed. One day, I saw a woman standing in front of what seemed to be the only empty parking spot. I paused in front of her to contemplate my next move. She approached my car so I rolled down my window and asked, “Are you really saving that spot?”

She looked rueful. “My car’s dead. I’m waiting for my husband to come jump start it.”

I nodded, or said ‘oh,’ or otherwise indicated I understood. As I pulled away, she called angrily, “Why do you people always assume the worst?”

I flushed with shame and embarrassment. If she hadn’t approached me I wouldn’t have said anything. My face might have registered annoyance, but I probably would have kept my mouth shut. As I walked by her to the store I struggled to redeem myself. The best I could do was to blurt defensively, “It’s understandable that people make assumptions.”

She said, “My battery is dead and the only way my husband will be able to jump me is to pull into the spot next to me. I’ve been standing here forever, explaining and putting up with dirty looks. It’s embarrassing. What’s wrong with you people? Why do you always jump to the worst conclusion?” She was radiating anger.

Unable to squash my defensiveness, I reiterated, “It may be embarrassing, but the way people react is understandable.” Then, hoping for some kind of absolution I said, “I have a Prius, so I can’t help you jump your car. Do you want me to ask someone else?”

“No,” she snapped. “There’s my husband.” She turned away and I went into the store.

I suffered over that incident for days, feeling the shame anew each time I thought about it. She had clearly been saving the parking spot and there was nothing to be gained by my asking her if that was what she was doing. She was right. I had assumed the worst and then allowed myself the luxury of letting my disdain leak out.

I had hoped to balance this story with one that could demonstrate how my tendency to say what I’m thinking can result in positive interactions, too, but after struggling with that for a while I realized it was irrelevant, an impulse related to my continued need to defend myself. It was time well spent, though, because it helped me realize that the real point of this musing was to teach myself about forgiveness, not from the woman in the parking lot, but from myself. If I could genuinely forgive myself I wouldn’t still be stressing about things that happened weeks, months, or even years ago.

I’m sorry that I thought the worst of the woman in the parking lot without knowing her circumstances, and I will try to be more careful in the future. That notwithstanding, I’m sorrier that I can’t be kinder to myself. I hope it’s not too late to learn.

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16 responses to “Think twice and forgive

  1. I’m so glad you are back blogging again, I missed you. You always have good thoughts and you write so well. Here is another one that made me pause and re-think, which is what I believe you had intended (or am I projecting?)

    • I’m so happy to hear from you. It makes sharing the little black parts of my heart all worthwhile. To have you join me in reflection, desired but not intended, is a lovely compliment.

  2. I once pulled into a spot and a woman came up to me and started screaming at me for parking in a handicapped spot……except that I wasn’t parked in a handicapped spot, I was next to one. After calmly pointing that out she said, “oh” and turned and walked away. I think your comment was not an issue (you made a series of mental calculations using reasonable variables, unlike my critic), but I think her reaction was uncalled for.

  3. What in the world did she mean by “you people”?

  4. I agree you need to forgive yourself. Your action was reasonable based on the data you had. I think the other person was a little unreasonable.

  5. I agree that your assumption was rational. I can also understand how hard it was for the woman to be attacked by people (not you, since you were civil) and become defensive. It’s too bad though that she couldn’t see what other people might be feeling and thinking and empathize with them. But it would be very hard when she was being attacked over and over. What makes me sad is how few words we have for communicating over issues like this without anger and defensiveness. That’s my go-to also. Even though I’ve worked hard to learn other ways to handle these things. I wonder if in another culture (the South?) this might have gone more smoothly, where there are more established ways to negotiate conflict graciously than in our home world of the North East? But then…there wouldn’t have been all that snow!

    • *You guys are a very forgiving bunch. Did no one hear the italics in this question, “Are you really saving that spot?” Had it not been for the word “really,” with the implied, ‘how dare you,’ I would have forgiven myself immediately. I believe, Annette, that if we could get a handle on our unhelpful, self-protective, emotional responses we’d have plenty of words to deal with situations like that. And you’re right, we were just at a wedding in North Carolina, and they are nicer. Or, put another way, they don’t often say what they’re really thinking! You and I wouldn’t last long there.

  6. I hate that parking lot…. But its okay if you get there by 9am… I do think you were in the right to ask based on your knowledge of the situation. An empty space with someone standing in it. She was probably just very frustrated by the number of people who asked the same thing.

  7. Good to see you back in action!
    On the other hand, she really was saving the space. And you cannot rely on the space next to you being open when you need a jump. Why not just get a pair of 20-foot jumper cables? Was the talk of her husband needing the space for jumping her car merely a pretext?
    Now I’m getting paranoid…

  8. Abubaker Mulumba

    In my opinion,and on the other hand,she too would have thought twice and forgive. Since you don’t find many people who like you who get out of their way to mend fences. Keep up the good spirit Judy

  9. I only hope this cranky woman has thought as hard and long about her reaction as you have about yours. But that’s probably too much to hope for…

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