Took a trip to the Winter Park Publix on Friday morning to get supplies ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Isaias. Almost everyone wore masks in obedience to store policy. Older folks seemed baffled, as usual, by the directional arrows on the aisle floors. I encountered several wrong way cart-pushers. I steered as far over as possible and went on my way. One woman rounded a bend in frozen foods, ditched her cart and strode straight toward me. I must have given her a sharp glance. She sputtered an apology, “I’ve been up and down this aisle three times and can’t find what I want!” I looked over my shoulder after she scurried by and saw her rooting in a frozen dessert freezer.
I looped back to the magazine/school supply/hardware aisle. It had been crowded the last time I passed it. Halfway down the aisle, I encountered a seventy-year-old woman pushing a cart toward me. She held a poodle on a leash and wore a plastic face guard. The guard looked like a transparent welder’s shield and did not close off her nose and mouth. The dog didn’t wear a service animal vest. I thought, “She’s the whole package of blind stupidity.”
The lady blocked the aisle with cart and dog and seemed oblivious to my presence. I moved forward anyway. I’d been dodging the wayward and no longer had patience to wait her out. She finally noticed and murmured, “Here Ruffles.” She pulled the dog a foot to the side. I held my breath as I squeezed by.
Judy sat on the front porch when I pulled into the driveway. As I began to unload the groceries, she asked me, “How was it?”
I said, “Okay. The cashier and the bagger were friendly this time. The credit card worked in the reader.” Then I told her about the unmasked poodle lady. Judy caught the irritation in my voice and said, “Maybe she’s one of those people who can’t breathe when they wear a mask.”
My mind cleared. A burden of irritation fell away. I said, “Thank you for saying that.”
My wife has a talent for finding the good in people, for believing that folks are doing their best. My portion of forbearance is meager by comparison. I married her, in part, to live with someone who wouldn’t confirm my darkest suspicions.
We recently discussed “The Book of Joy,” a profile of the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu. The two share a friendship marked by humor and mutual understanding. Both men persevered as spiritual leaders during hard times. The book considers how the two are able to live in joy despite their troubles. Maintaining a positive attitude is one of the skills they foster. Their deep contentment comes from the cultivation of an attitude that seeks to reserve judgment and expect the best from others. They are not naïve, however. They just insist on dwelling in loving hope.