One evening in my local grocery store, I was shopping in the Italian food section. A few aisles away, a child was in the middle of a loud tantrum. Just as the extra-loud part of the tantrum revved up, a southern grandma walked by me. She was wearing a frumpy sweater and odd-looking pants, and walked with a slight limp. She had heard this child (along with everyone else in the store) and commented aloud as she passed me, “Somebody oughta just whoop that child and teach him a thing or two.”
You know how a whole lot can go through your mind in a few quick seconds, including detailed visuals?
To me, this grandma was a little scary. I found myself thinking maybe she was limping ’cause she had whooped a few too many in her day. Or maybe she had underestimated one “whoopee” who had whooped back. Maybe she’d whooped so many, she’d over-exerted. Perhaps it was her calling to whoop. Maybe she was a grandma that whooped her whole family regularly, and had done so that very day even, and now she was tired and limping.
I wondered what it was like to be a child in her home. What was her point of view on cruelty and kindness? How had her parents treated her and what had she concluded from that treatment? Had she changed over the years, and if so, how? As you can see, I was on a roll in my imagination. She seemed disgusted, angry, old and tired.
Then I noticed my Inner Guidance kick in—and it threw a flag on the play. A whistle blew right there inside me in the grocery store and my awareness snapped to attention. “Oh, there it is!” I thought. “I’m manufacturing a negative story about this grumpy grandma.”When I imagined her possible past evils, I felt negative emotion.
How did my Inner Being throw a flag on the play? By me experiencing a negative emotion. The grandma’s some-body-oughta-whoop-comment in passing required nothing from me. I could have received it, accepted it, let it go. However, I made up a judgmental story in my mind about her, and my Inner Being let me know (through negative emotion) that I did that.
Because I was paying attention (good for me), I noticed the negative thoughts (judgments about Grandma) were followed by negative emotion (ouch in my heart). In other words, it hurt to think what I was thinking. My thinking caused me to come to conclusions about her, which created an outcome—I felt stressed. Afraid. Worried.
Imagining the grandmother’s past actions showed up as a tight heart in me. Wasn’t it good of my faithful guidance system to alert me about my thinking? Believing my thoughts about Grandma (my made up, stressful opinions) wasn’t going to help me or her, or any of those already whooped children in any way.
I stood still for a while after she walked on. I didn’t respond verbally to her, but she knew I heard her—we made direct eye contact. I took a moment to notice I was not in a state of love or acceptance. I also noticed that I preferred to return to a more loving state within myself, if at all possible. My way of finding my way back to center, to God, to Love, is to get quiet. So I got quiet. No use having two people in pain.
Limping Grandma reminded me of a truth: thinking unloving thoughts is like giving yourself a good whoopin’.
Silently, I thanked her, and said a little prayer right there in the grocery store holding the pasta sauce that had not yet made it into my cart. It must have looked a little odd, me holding marinara sauce in quiet contemplation. In these ordinary moments, a grandmother in pain becomes an unlikely angel. After all, she gave me one of the best reminders possible about how to be gentle to myself, and I listened.
What a beautiful gift this unhappy, oddly dressed, limping, stern woman with missing teeth gave me. She reminded me that I have access to wisdom within. Because of this grandmother, my thoughts turned to masters like Jesus and Buddha and Muhammad and the blessed Mother Teresa, right there in the middle of an ordinary evening of food shopping in my local grocery store.
One thing I was pretty sure of: this grandmother was doing the best she knew how.
I thought about how Mother Teresa visited the sick and suffering and simply opened her compassionate heart. She received them with love, nothing but love. I decided to become Mother Teresa—at least give it my best shot. I can tell you that pretending to be Mother Teresa relieved the pain of my judgment.
Grazie, sei molto gentile. (Thanks, you are very kind.)
Terri’s book of photography combined with poetry: 100 Words: Small Servings of Whimsy and Wisdom to Calm the Mind and Nourish the Heart.