This is a true story. It happened several years ago, when I was still working full time.
It was early on a Saturday morning when I set out with a long list of errands. First up: go to the ATM for cash so I could do the other errands!
As I walked across the parking lot I could see one woman at the machine and another woman waiting. Not bad, I thought. This should be quick.
When I got close enough to get in line, I saw the woman at the machine was talking on her cell phone. I drew in a short, annoyed breath. How inconsiderate! She was wasting our time—mine and that of the other woman in line ahead of me. If you’re not ready to attend to the task at hand, then get out of the way!
Immediately I began to silently berate myself for being so impatient, for allowing a stranger to affect my mood, for starting my day in such a negative way. I took a deep breath, tried a mantra or two, gazed at the cloudless sky.
After a few moments I looked back toward the ATM. The first woman was not there, but the second woman had not moved forward. What’s up? oh.my.god. Now she’s getting an envelope. Still yakking on the phone. Getting an envelope. “Well,” she said, “if you’re not sure, you can pull over at the Safeway and wait for me. I’ll be by there soon.” She took a pen from her purse. I wanted to scream. I started to chant real fast in my head.
A few, nearly intolerable minutes later, the first woman finished her business and wandered past me into the parking lot. I sighed with relief. The second woman approached the ATM. Won’t be long now. Suddenly, she turned abruptly and looked at me. “Did you see where that lady went?” she blurted, lifting something small in her hand. “She left her card in the machine.”
Startled, I pointed in the direction where the first woman headed, and the second woman ran off, waving her arms and shouting.
And then, as my Jewish friends say at Chanukah, “A Great Miracle Happened There.” I felt a sudden rush of compassion for the woman at the ATM who had annoyed me so much. The thought came to me unbidden: You’ve left your card in the machine before too. See–she’s just as stressed out as you are, Nance.
I want to emphasize here that this flood of empathy was not something I worked out logically. I didn’t scold or shame myself into acting nice. I wasn’t nice. I did nothing. I stood there and waited for the second woman to return. “Got it back to her,” she confirmed, and I nodded, quietly allowing her to use the ATM before me. But the Universe had given me this great gift, this wonderful insight and a comforting warmth around my heart chakra.
This, I thought, must be grace.
Watch for it. Maybe the Universe will surprise you this holiday season too.