On Saturday, coming home from Alabama, I stopped at a mall outside of town. I needed some gloves and a scarf since the weather was about to turn cold again. My plan was to run in, buy the items, and be back on the road in twenty minutes.
The first problem was that no store had what I needed. I ended up walking into every store that sold scarves (which was more than two and less than two hundred. At some point, I gave up on counting.) At the end I had to admit failure, so I went back to my car.
And there I met problem two. While I was in the mall, someone driving the most massive white truck I had ever seen parked beside me. Now this truck was parked at such an angle that there was no room between it and my car. I couldn’t back out.
I sat in my car for a moment and thought over my options:
- Just back out, taking part of the truck with me. Morally, I couldn’t do it. Practically, it was likely my tiny car would come out the worst in any such encounter.
- Wait in my car until the person left. (Or, more happily, until the car across from me left because I couldn’t see anyway that the truck could leave without hitting me.)
- Go back inside.
I chose option 3. I made a mental list of presents that I needed to buy and returned to the mall. Every thirty minutes or so, I walked back to the parking lot to see if the truck was still there. After ninety minutes, I found the white truck gone with no harm done to my car, and I went home.
As I was driving, I thought of a time that I overheard a conversation between a friend of mine and a customer at her store. The customer said that she believed in the idea that everything, no matter how bad, had a good side. My friend disagreed, giving an example that was so horrible that the conversation ended abruptly and uncomfortably.
But most of the time, we don’t face extreme, horrible circumstances. In my case, at the worst, I was inconvenienced. And there were indeed some good things that came out of it:
- I don’t have to return to this mall during the holiday season, since I am now well acquainted with all its goods.
- I added 15,000 steps on my Fitbit.
- Since I had my phone with me, I could keep tabs on the Alabama game, which my alma mater won in a convincing manner.
Like most people, I am thankful for family, friends, health, and home this Thanksgiving. I am truly fortunate.
But sometimes, I think it also helps to look at things at a “slant” as Emily Dickinson says. So here is a list of the less-obvious things that make me thankful:
- I am grateful that I work in a place that has a wide diversity of folks. I really think my own outlook has been broadened by my constant interaction with students from different countries, from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and with different goals.
- I am thankful for my somewhat phlegmatic temperament because it apparently means that I will never yell at waiters, clerks, or customer service reps. In fact, when someone apologizes for a line being slow, I am at a loss on how to answer because I’m usually thinking that if waiting in a line is the worst thing that happens to me on any given day, then I’m one fortunate person. This personality quirk means that I rarely mull over wrongdoings after they happen, and my blood pressure seems to stay at a decent level despite my love of salt.
- I have no musical talent at all, but I am grateful that I live in Nashville. I’ve rarely seen stars out and about (except for Nicole and Keith at Whole Foods and Vince and Amy leaving Office Depot once), but I am constantly energized by the music being made around me. It is inspiring to see my library colleagues finish their workday and then go out to play music or to write.
- I don’t remember learning to read. To me, reading is like breathing, something that I’ve always done. So I’m not sure whom to thank on this one: probably a combination of my mother, elementary school teachers and librarians, and friends who loved books as much as I did. So I thank everyone along the way who encouraged me love of reading. I’m grateful to the world you opened up for me.
- And, finally, I am grateful that I live in a world where I was born after George Eliot and Jane Austen. I can’t imagine a life without the worlds you created.
This can be a hard time of the semester. For students, every course is now racing to the end, with due dates for tests, papers, and projects accumulating like the bugs on the rotting apple that someone left in the back of the library. The same is true for faculty, as they have to grade all those materials being turned in.
At this point in the semester, there is always some looking backwards and wishing things had been different. Students wish they’d studied harder at the beginning of the semester and had not failed that first test or bombed that second speech; they would be in so much better shape now. Faculty wish that they had changed the syllabus a bit, so there would be less grading in the final four weeks.
Now there is no problem with this sort of thinking if it effects change. We make a note reminding ourselves to make a different start next semester, and then we do so. But too often, we just get mired down in regrets.
So now is the time to realize what done is done. We can’t go back and make a new beginning for the semester. We can only make the best of the time we now have.
And that’s just as true with relationships as with semesters. We may have ignored a friend because we’ve been too busy. We may have said some truly hurtful words because we were irritated and angry. We may caused our colleagues more work and time because we were focused on ourselves.
We’re humans. We make mistakes. But we can’t pretend these things didn’t happen. We have to admit them and start the process of reconciliation. Because what’s done is done. But that doesn’t mean it’s over.
Sunday afternoon, I went to my local Staples store to buy an ink cartridge for my printer. It was raining, and since the clocks had changed the night before, it wasn’t hard to feel that it was the middle of the night and we should all be at home in our beds.
At the checkout counter, the woman in front of me was obviously irritated with the clerk. She had bought something online to be picked up, and the clerk was not familiar with the procedure. There was no yelling, but it was clear that the woman was impatient and that impatience was making the clerk more nervous, which was slowing her down. The manager came over to help, and the clerk said over and over that she rarely did this and had forgotten some of the steps. Finally, the sale went through, the customer left, and the manager said some comforting words to the clerk. And I bought my cartridge and came home.
But it occurred to me that the world might be a kinder place if, every so often, we were all lifted up and made to do something new. You know, like a vocational tornado blew us out of our offices and behind the cash register at the Dollar Tree on a busy Saturday afternoon? Or in the kitchen at Cracker Barrel after church on Sunday? Or on the phone in a call center for an insurance company?
Maybe, if we were periodically forced to experience doing something new under observation by critical strangers, we would be nicer to people who do those jobs for real.