In an episode of Sex and the City (the one with the Post-It), Carrie Bradshaw is already having a bad morning and she’s on her way to meet her friends for breakfast. A man walking toward her plows into her so hard that it spins her around. As he continues walking briskly away, she shouts at him, “Oh, you’re SO BUSY,” but he never looks back, apologizes, or even acknowledges her. Whenever I see this scene, I cringe, because I know that I’ve been the person who’s SO BUSY, though I don’t think I’ve ever actually run into anyone, certainly not without an apology.
I suppose a parallel in my own life would be from the years when I worked outside my home. There would be mornings I’d stop at the grocery store because I needed to take food for a meeting, or I needed to grab something microwavable for breakfast or lunch, and I’d encounter That Old Person™. You know the one: He or she is watching the register monitor like a hawk, slowly pulling out coupons, writing a check, scrutinizing the receipt. And all the while, I’m there mentally shrieking, WHY WHY WHY are you doing your grocery shopping during rush hour, can’t you just wait until everyone’s at work, you have all day, blah blah blah… And I’m sure I was looking desperately toward other registers for a faster line or rolling my eyes or sighing. In other words, being a bitch.
I’m willing to bet nine times out of ten when someone annoyed me on my way to work or to an appointment or whatever mandated my being somewhere by a certain time, my own time management skills were less than optimal. But oh, let me resent and mentally castigate some person who moves a little slower, with a little more fragility, and with less compulsion to rush around like an idiot who’s just SO BUSY.
I’ve been mostly out of the work force for about ten years now, by choice. Maybe that has changed my perspective. Or maybe it’s just growing older and seeing some of my own limitations develop. Or maybe it’s that I watched my mother struggle with an insidious disease that robbed her of her independence. Because there was no way she could remember passwords and ATM codes. She had to write checks, and sometimes, she struggled to do that, and would have to write two or three before she could get it right. Sometimes she’d go days without having anyone to talk to, so when a store employee was nice to her, she liked having a conversation. And I would think to myself, as I watched her navigate and hesitate and try to get her bearings without exposing her confusion and anxiety, A stranger has no idea who this woman is, the life she’s lived, the things she’s seen, her losses, her triumphs, her spirit. She’s just an old woman slowing them down. And sometimes, I was the person who was hurrying her along, trying to get back to my SO BUSY life, trying to keep her from inconveniencing other people.
I think I know better now. I try to do better. Last week, Lynne told me about an experience she had at a business that was set up almost like a maze. She saw an elderly woman come out of the restroom, and she realized the woman was having one of those moments of feeling utterly lost. It could have been the confusing layout, or she could have been having what gets called a “senior moment.” Lynne offered her assistance, but even so, neither she nor the woman could find where she was trying to get to. So Lynne took her back to the reception area, where an employee was less than understanding, even rude. As Lynne told me the story, I shook my head and said, “One day, if she’s lucky, she’ll be old, too. Then she’ll know what that’s like, how scary and overwhelming things can be.”
Really, so much of the pressure we feel to be somewhere, get somewhere, is self-imposed. And even when we do everything right, we can’t control the train that stops on the tracks, the freeway that turns into a parking lot because of an accident, the business that suffers a power outage. Nothing is going to be fixed with our sighing and eye-rolling, our lane-switching and tail-gating and meltdowns, our rudeness, our Tweeting and Facebooking to the world how much we’re being inconvenienced and thwarted by it all.
Something silly made me think of all this. I like finding people’s lists, and the other day at the grocery store, the woman ahead of me had set her list down while she was paying. I fully intended to grab it after she walked off, but she picked it up with her purse. However, there was another list beneath it, from an earlier customer, so I grabbed that one. And the spidery handwriting made me smile because I believed it came from someone elderly. But some of the quantities led me to think the person is not cooking for one. However, I can’t decipher everything, so I leave it to you to fill in my blanks. (If you need to, you can view a larger version here.)
pork roast, 6 orange roughly filets, 1 1/2 pounds squash, milk, 28 oz Italian [indecipherable], 10 oz package spinach(?), [indecipherable], shebert (sic)–this one makes me laugh because I can’t for the life of me pronounce sherbet correctly–to me, it’s sher-bert, and the list-maker has put the “r” in the wrong place, which makes me think that person has the same problem as me–fruit, OJ, V-8, eggs
I hope whoever was behind That Old Person™ wasn’t SO BUSY that s/he couldn’t be as patient as I’d want someone to be with my mother.