| Words Unspoken |

To the Lady Ahead of Me in the Supermarket

At a time when I could have used a little bit of warmth, I was faced with you and your hostility




To the lady ahead of me at the supermarket,

IT was an honest mistake.

The cashier called for the next person in line, and you were off to one side looking at a nearby display. I didn’t notice you there, so I went ahead.

I didn’t notice much of anything that day, truthfully. I was distracted. After two months of worrying symptoms and dozens of tests, I’d just been diagnosed with a rare progressive disease. I’m sure you can excuse me if my mind was elsewhere.

And that’s besides the fact that on a practical level the illness has affected my peripheral vision, and at the ripe old age of 29, I can no longer see my surroundings clearly.

But how could you know all that? I looked young and healthy. Who could blame you for yelling at me in a loud voice for all to hear, “Who do you think you are cutting me off like that?” And then, turning to address the line behind you, “Young people these days. Such chutzpah I’ve never seen before.”

I’d held it together for two long months.

Through days of being poked and prodded, biopsied and scanned. Through weeks of X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans. Through dozens of blood tests and appointments with every specialist in the city. Through multiple attempts at treatment plans that caused nausea, weakness, and as many horrific side effects as the disease itself was causing.

Through pain and fear and more pain.

Through the pressure to be there for my husband and kids even as I began feeling sicker and sicker, because I wanted so much to just be a regular young wife and mother like everyone else.

Through the loneliness of keeping my illness a secret and acting okay. Through wishing I could tell my friends, but instead keeping quiet and saying yes to favors I wasn’t really up to doing in my condition.

Through dreading the day that I would be the one on the receiving end of those favors.

And then through the finality of that morning’s decisive diagnosis, seeing the doctor’s grim face, the feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Through it all, I just bit my lip hard, told myself I was strong and I could do this.

I didn’t cry.

I even went straight from that day’s treatment at the hospital to the supermarket to buy the ingredients I needed for supper.

But then you yelled at me like that in front of a whole line of people, and it was just too much. I turned around and ran to the safety of my car. I put my head on the steering wheel, and for the very first time since I became sick, I cried and cried.

I cried because I was afraid. Because there is nothing more frightening than watching all parts of your body slowly failing you, and knowing that worse is yet to come.

I cried because I felt so helpless. I wanted to be a mother who takes her kids to the park. Who has ice-cream parties and midnight baking fests with her teenage daughters. Who builds Lego sets cross-legged on the floor with her toddlers. But I didn’t know how much longer I’d be able to be that kind of mother, and no matter how deeply I wished it, there was nothing I could do to change that.

I cried because I was in so much pain, not just emotionally but physically, too. Because everything had ached and hurt for so long, and Hashem please make it stop, I can’t take this anymore.

And I cried because at a time when I could have used a little bit of warmth, I was faced with you and your hostility.

I’m sure you had your own reasons for being in a bad mood. Maybe you were also struggling with a devastating diagnosis. Or maybe you were simply annoyed because your coffee had spilled in the car. I don’t know. But even if it was a valid reason, did yelling at me make you feel any better?

It most certainly made me feel worse.

You know the phrase, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about”? Exactly. We can never know what someone else is going through and what kind of impact our behavior toward them may have. Why not choose to be more compassionate to the people around you, bring some light into the darkness, instead of just the opposite?

You can be the one to make someone’s difficult day a little easier, and not the other way around.



The lady behind you in line at the supermarket


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 864)

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