Yesterday, a woman with two wiener dogs made me cry.
This is notable primarily because I rarely cry out in the wild because someone did something to upset me. Not anymore, at least.
Here’s what happened: I was trying to deliver a book to a customer that lives in an apartment on the second floor of a huge, gorgeous house. There’s no interior access to this apartment–just a steep, narrow flight of metal stairs on the outside of the building. It had been raining, so everything outside was wet. No real overhang to speak of. And y’all know I wasn’t going to let that book get wet.
So, I’m looking around for an common interior space. Or at least a space that’s covered. But I’m not really finding anything that looks viable. I see an open garage space that is dry, but I don’t know the protocol for leaving packages or even if these tenants are on friendly terms with each other. I don’t want to leave a package in the wrong space and start some turf war.
Wiener dog lady is looking at me from inside her house. I don’t know she has wiener dogs yet, but I do know she looks vexed. At me, I suppose. But I’m really focused on this book, so I’m not paying much attention.
As soon as I exit screen right to examine the porch on the front of the house for viability, she walks out with her two yapping dogs. One immediately escapes the leash. She’s yelling for the dog, and I’m scurrying stealthily away. I have no desire for my ankle to be chomped on.
Not today, Satan.
I’m also growing increasingly frustrated–at myself primarily. Why can’t I decide where to drop this book?!
Fed up with my own indecisiveness, and realizing that this lady has re-leashed both dogs and they’re happily sniffing things in the yard, I decide I’m going to ask her about a shared common space.
I approach her with a “Hey, can I ask you a question?”
She looks at me like I’m something stuck to the bottom of her shoe. “I guess,” she says.
I promise you, I don’t remember when I met this kind of distain from another human.
“Is there a…” I start. Her dogs, seemingly noticing me for the very first time, immediately start yapping again.
“I can’t HEAR you,” she says.
And I know I’ve been summarily dismissed.
I head back to my car without another word. Before I even get to the car, I’m crying.
I’m just going to break my own narrative here and tell you that I know people suffer much greater indignities than this daily. That, really, this wasn’t a big deal. That the fact that I was so stung by her dismissal is a sign of my own privilege.
I also know that I cried for the next 15 minutes. That I was so swamped by shame, and hurt, and self pity (oh my good lord, so much self pity) that I could hardly breathe.
I just kept thinking, “You never know what people are going through. You should be nicer.” But I wasn’t thinking I should be nicer, or more compassionate, or have broader perspective. I was thinking that woman should be nicer. She should think about what I was going through. She should think about how hard I’m trying right now.
It has been years since I felt that particular way: so overcome with feelings of being misunderstood, so in the throes of self-pity because people are mean to me, so self-centered that I could barely function.
That, right there, that feeling is why I used to drink. This oppressive cycle of self that I couldn’t seem to escape was how I lived my entire life. I was always upset because people didn’t understand me. I always was the victim. And I felt perpetually sorry for myself.
The reasons I ended up in that shame-cycle of self-centeredness yesterday are myriad. And crying it out was the only way I was going to escape. The release was cathartic.
But what stuck with me the most was realizing, even as I was swamped down in that moment, that if I felt this all the time, I would certainly drink. I could hardly stand feeling that way for a few minutes. I needed to escape. I need emphatically to not feel that way.
And I used to live in that space of pain, shame, and self-pity all the damn time.
15 minutes of that yesterday launched a full-scale internal gratitude campaign about my sobriety. I’m grateful that I’ve spent the past decade or so cultivating a world-view that (tries to) decenter my self. That my spiritual practice is about compassion. And that I realize that self-pity and self-compassion are most certainly not the same.
Today, I’m left with these 2 things:
- the thought that perhaps I should cry a little more freely when I’m frustrated or overwhelmed, so as not to give all the power over to random ladies with wiener dogs, and
- a tremendous tenderness toward what other people are reckoning with: those who are still sick and suffering, folks navigating their own shame-storms, people with emotional & logistical challenges big and small… and yes, even ladies with wiener dogs having a bad day.