The other day I stopped by Little Caeser's Pizza to pick up a Hot N Ready. As happens all too often these days, roaring tinnitus had me stuck to the couch most of the afternoon and by the time it subsided to a livable hum, it was way past time to make a healthy meal.
So pizza it was.
On my way in a woman passed me, obviously in a hurry.
Nicely coiffed and wearing what looked to be an expensive track suit, she didn't even acknowledge my presence as she pushed by me in an apparent effort to reach the door first. No "excuse me," no eye contact, no nod of the head as she raced (or so it seemed) to pick up her dinner.
As I stood in line behind her, I mentally sized her up. Rich? Probably. Arrogant? Yeah. Rude? Definitely.
She completed her transaction and turned to make her way out. But, with three pizzas, a two liter of soda and some crazy bread, it was clear she could not manage the door. I reached to open it for her and for a second her eyes met mine. "Thank you," she said. "I appreciate your help."
It was then that I noticed it. A slight droop to the right side of her face. A tired, slightly worn expression. Or was it my imagination?
Imagination or not, I was hit with the realization that I had made an assumption about her character without knowing her story. I had mistaken her hurry for rudeness and her lack of interaction for arrogance when it was probably something else. Did she have a sick loved one at home? Was she sick herself? Had she just lost her job? I'll never know, but I did know something - I was a hypocrite.
You see, I've been reading a book on hearing loss, smugly agreeing with the author as she shares the indignities often heaped on the hearing impaired.
In "Shouting Won't Help; Why I and 50 Million Other Americans Can't Hear You," Katherine Bouton deftly articulates the struggles of the hard of hearing in a hearing world. "Since I'm also very good at faking it, many people don't know I'm hearing impaired. Instead, they think I'm arrogant or remote, absentminded or distracted, drunk or just plain stupid," she writes of her own experiences.
Mmm hmm. I nodded. Someone gets it.
In a restaurant job long ago, I once got called out for being "stuck up." My social faux pas? As the others laughed and joked in the kitchen, I did my job, head down, hurriedly passing the others in an attempt to look busy. Truth is, I just couldn't hear them. I got branded as arrogant. Rude. Too good for the others.
So,when Bouton writes of missed punchlines and her own confusion, I do a mental high five. "Preach it, sister!" I practically shout. Her writing gives me a feeling of sisterhood, of specialness, of validation.
I know first hand what it's like to have your character maligned when all you really need is understanding – and when it's offered to me, I appreciate the extravagance of grace.
It was this grace I had neglected to extend to the Little Caeser's lady. The grace I crave for myself, I was unwilling to give.
If my pizza experience taught me anything, it's that I have a long way to go. We're all going through something, and if I'm honest, I know there are far worse things than being hearing impaired.
Cancer. Paralysis. Any number of incurable illnesses.
I am not special.
But, I do have a gift. Used correctly, my own shortcomings can offer me a window into the experiences of others. I can choose kindness. I can sympathize even when I don't know your story.
I can offer grace.
Maybe next time I'll get it right.