Last evening I was standing in line at the grocery store, when a snobby thirtysomething with only three items in her basket bullied her way in front of me.
This line-cutter made no eye contact, nor did she seek my permission. I’m sure she felt she had more important items on her to-do list than did the old man holding a basket half-full of yogurt, oranges and shredded wheat.
What sort of response would be appropriate here?
Friends and family tell me I have a history of overreacting to such little situations. Actually, I overreact to almost everything when I feel I’ve been neglected, mistreated or misunderstood. If there’s some sort of national trophy for being the greatest escalator of personal conflicts, inscribe my name on it now.
In calmer moments, I can recognize that no response is often the best response of all. But in the heat of the moment, when someone says something I interpret as deprecating or downright ridiculous, I immediately rush in to right the wrong, to clear my name or make certain my position is clearly understood. It can get a bit obnoxious.
It’s my mother’s fault, really. I blame Irene Duffy, particularly now that she is long departed and cannot defend herself. (In her day, she would have devoured me with one fierce retort.) My mother never let a sleeping dog lie. Her Irish blood and her “A” in fifth grade elocution class equipped her to overreact to any perceived slight.
Irene Duffy taught me well. She would lecture as we washed and dried the supper dishes: “Donald Duffy, if you know you are right, speak up. Let them know who’s boss.” Her words had a lasting impression, particularly on an underdeveloped, stammering sixth-grader.
After many years of overreaction, I vowed to improve my behavior in 2014. I promised myself that I’d let little indiscretions slip off my back, that I’d smile graciously and nod my head in contrite acceptance.
So last night in the grocery store, I felt the usual rush of adrenaline, the subtle twinge I get before going on the attack. But then I hesitated, gave serious consideration to the new, gracious me and politely instructed the line-cutter to step aside and wait her turn.
For me, it was a sign of progress, not perfection. After all, it’s still 2013 and I am still my mother’s son.