A brief encounter in the grocery store last week got me thinking about how I try to avoid admitting when I’m wrong. I tell myself I was justified, that I’m not the only one who has screwed up in this way, or that I’m not the only one to blame in a particular situation.
I have to say I’ve been doing better lately in the admitting-mistakes department . Or rather, I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to identify as quickly as possible my errant behavior.
Take for instance late Thursday afternoon. I was rushing to get into the checkout line at Whole Foods. I had just come from one of those boot-camp-style classes at my gym, so I was feeling physically and mentally pumped up. I had to pick up a few things for dinner. It was pushing 6 o’clock. My family was waiting at home.
I was distracted enough with my rush to get my groceries and get home – my own sense of self-importance – that I darted in front of a hesitant, slow-moving older couple to get a place in the express line.
But as I soon as I won my place in line I glanced back at the couple, and thought, I’m such an asshole.
I had cut in front of them.The couple were in their 60s or 70s, and it became immediately clear that the woman was not well. She was wearing a bulky track suit and cap that covered what appeared to be thinning and bald patches of silver-flecked hair. Her hands clutched at the handles of the shopping cart, as if she was relying on them to keep her body from losing its balance. She raised one hand, holding a wad of Kleenex, and coughed into it.
I thought, maybe she has cancer and is going through chemotherapy. Maybe she is dying.
Her husband was a gentle presence by her side, touching her elbow to guide her forward through the aisles, or to protect her from people barging in and around her — like me.
The man had wary eyes beneath bushy gray eyebrows. “I’m sorry,” I said to him. “I cut in front of you. That was rude of me.”
I stepped aside, and gestured for the two to move ahead of me. The man nodded his thanks, and he and his wife shuffled forward. The woman coughed some more into her Kleenex, a rasping painful cough.
As we continued to wait in line, there was a moment, when my eyes again met the man’s. He gave me a quick smile. It seemed filled with so much — I’m not sure — sadness, forgiveness, shame?
I just know that in that moment, his smile meant the world to me.
It told me that perhaps my gesture had made a difference to him and his wife. Certainly, his smile made a difference to me.
It told me that, yeah, I had done one right thing that day. Or one small right thing to correct the wrong thing. There’s hope for me yet.
4 thoughts on “Not easy to admit when you’re wrong”
Great piece of writing.
Martha, These thoughts should be shared with others and certainly all of our children. It is the little things in life like your kind gesture that mean so much to others and make life worth living. Good job!
Thank you for being the better person and admitting your mistake. If more people thought like you and acted like you, this world would surely be a better place. Compassion, respect, and kindness sure go a long way in this life.
Life is made up of such small gestures.