What I’m about to write happened on my way to math class last month. I was coming off a church service which had been incredibly eye-opening for me and I was just… I wanted that great feeling to continue. I was making an effort to remind myself that there are more important things than this temporary life.
I hadn’t slept well the night before. I’d stayed up late doing homework or something (and I never really want to go to math class, even on my best day). So, I was tired. I forgot to run an errand I needed to do before leaving. My day wasn’t starting out great.
I caught the bus with an older woman, probably in her mid-sixties and we sat near each other, close to the back door. The trip was pretty uneventful; I put in my headphones and imagined a world where Alex Summers is a real person and madly in love with me (I’m a fangrrl, don’t you judge me).
The bus got to the transit center a minute late and I thought I might not catch the 11:59am trolley to class and I’d have to wait for the 12:14pm trolley (the horror).
As the bus rounded the corner into the transit center, this woman and I both readied ourselves to jump for the door. I knew I’d have to defer to her, because it’s just the decent thing to do. I’m not going to push my way in front of an old lady to maybe catch the earlier trolley. I wasn’t happy about it; I wished I could be that much of an asshole, because taking the 12:14 trolley meant I’d only have 25 minutes to get from the bus stop to class, and I still needed to eat my lunch. It would be a big rush from the second I stepped off the bus onto campus. I wasn’t looking forward to it.
There was a second where we locked eyes and I knew she knew I also wanted to hit that door first. And in that second, I smiled at her. I wasn’t happy, I didn’t particularly want to smile at her, but what was the alternative? Glare at this little old lady? Who does that? I smiled at her, because it’s just the polite thing to do.
So, I smiled at her and this woman told me, “Oh, you have a beautiful smile.”
Now, I smiled in earnest. What a lovely compliment. I thanked her.
She went on, “Normally, people just glare or grimace at me. They’re tired or they’re pissed off and they want you to know.”
We had a nice, short little conversation as the bus pulled up to the curb about how there’s just too much of that in the world. There’s no point in trying to make other people miserable. As she got off (ahead of me), she wished me a good day and I did likewise.
I felt so ashamed of myself for being so selfish. Of being bitter at having to let this woman go ahead of me (holding me up by three whole seconds) just because it’s “the right thing to do,” or having to defer to this old person just because she was old. I felt ashamed that I had actually wished I was a worse person so I wouldn’t feel guilty about not adhering to that social norm.
Let that sink in for a second. I actively wished myself to be a bad person so I would have an extra ten minutes to eat my lunch without feeling guilty about being rude. What the hell?
Instead, I did the polite thing—even though I didn’t really want to—and it didn’t just make this woman’s day a little better, but it made my own day a little better. Two people left that interaction in better moods, took a little bit of happiness into everything else they did for the rest of the day, just because I sucked it up and was nice even though I didn’t feel like it.
The world would be a much better place if everyone could just suck it up once in a while and do the polite thing, even though they don’t want to. Just once a day, instead of cutting someone off on the freeway, let someone in front of them. Instead of grumbling at a slow cashier, just say good morning to them. These are little things that cost us as individuals nothing, but add up to make the entire society a better place to live.
And you know what? I didn’t even miss my trolley.
I love you all.
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