I was standing in line at the grocery store today. At Publix actually, (for those of you not from Florida, you won’t have the appreciation and undying love for Publix subs like those of us who grew up here do) and the woman checking out in front of me was moving so slow, I started to get frustrated. And the cashier was getting frustrated. And the people behind me were antsy, weight shifting from one foot to the other, their clearly audible sighs voicing their disapproval in an oh-so passive-aggressive way.
As I continued to watch her almost mindless actions as she stared at the credit card machine and seemed unable to muster even the energy to punch in her PIN number, I recognized the “thousand-yard stare” in her eyes…I know it all too well myself. So I simply and quietly asked her, “Are you okay?” With a quick glance in my direction, and some building tears in her eyes, she snatched the receipt from the cashier, grabbed her bags, and headed for the door with her head down…running for the door at a million miles an hour, trapped inside her thoughts, and consumed with the loneliness that comes from holding everything inside.
As my day went on, I couldn’t help but think of how many times I was in her same shoes…how many times I stare blankly ahead, as if on autopilot. How many times I am the guy at the cash register, or in line at the bank, or sitting a few seconds too long after the light turns green, gaining the intense hatred of those people behind me (especially those in cars) that burns deep from within at the slightest delay in our daily rat race.
And as my day churned on even further, I wondered how many times today the young woman was “causing inconvenience” to someone else by slowing him or her down a few seconds. I wondered how many people even noticed the look on her face and the tears in her eyes. I wondered how often I went without noticing that in people…or even worse, ignored it when I did see it because I “didn’t have the time” to do something about it.
I think we are most empathetic when we are in our early adolescent years…that time when we have the emotional maturity to recognize that someone else is hurting, but we ourselves haven’t yet been hurt enough, or gone through enough personal emotional pain, to be de-sensitized to it all. At this age, we don’t compare our problems to others…we don’t keep a scorecard of who has had it worst, whose problems are bigger than whose, and who we feel is worthy of our time (even an extra 10 seconds of it in line at the checkout counter).
And those of us who suffer, those of us out there fighting the battles with PTSD and confronting our demons every day, WE are the ones who are responsible for making that change in the world. WE should be the ones recognizing when others are in the trenches, fighting a hard battle that day, because WE have been there time and again. That person who appears as if they are gazing at the moon…that could have been us last month, last week, yesterday, or even five minutes ago. And we hope that when it is us that is having the hard day, someone will be there to give us the same care and understanding..
I am probably as guilty as anyone of rushing through my interactions on a daily basis. My problems are worse than most, right? My job is busy and important to stop and notice what is going on with others in the middle of a hectic Monday workday!
There is a popular saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I never thought that applied to me because in the back of my head, I always though that I was too messed up, and my past was too riddled with garbage, and my mind too frantic in thought to be someone who could have a positive impact anywhere. But I am starting to realize that every morning when I get up I don’t have to be perfect to make a difference – I just have to be better than I was yesterday. And what a more appropriate way than be kind to everyone you meet, and let that positive energy lift off of our backs a little bit of that weight all of us PTSD sufferers carry every day.