Admittedly in the throes of an asshole moment I smiled to myself yet no matter the angle of justification I’d attempted to position myself on, the truth was that my actions were as childish as my reaction.
I’d observed him for a week. He was always first in line and his attention seemed never to leave the closed sign, dark from pause of its pink neon light. Each day he arrived wearing baggy white cargo shorts and an old worn baseball cap while carrying a Venti-sized Starbucks cup, a book bag and a handful of keys. I would wonder later why he didn’t give them rest in his obviously roomy pockets.
As soon as the doors opened he made a beehive for what I would later decide was the most prized work station due to its location and privacy. Coveting nudged me as self-righteousness began plotting upon ideals of fairness. In week two I decided to arrive extra early to be first in line to take the opportunistic beehive.
When he arrived behind me I greeted him with a “Good Morning” and a smile that was met with a nod followed by an intense stare at the darkened closed sign. I turned to stare like him and when the doors were open I buzzed to that prized workstation as he tailed me and attempted to place his coffee cup in front of me as if we were tied at the finish line and his cup would make the difference in replay. I pretended not to notice while immediately unpacking my things to make myself at ‘home’.
After a moment I looked around for him and saw he’d been remanded to the fishbowl portion of the room, his nightmare and mine. So here’s the part of the story that gives me extra asshole glitter; the fella had to be somewhere in his 80’s and he’d made the space I purposely invaded his home or maybe his escape from home each day.
A few evenings prior I’d been emotional, teary and more sensitive than normal so asked my children to give me space. Each offered love in their individual ways and while it would have been my desire not to break in front of them their warmth was nice to embrace. My daughter wrote me a note which I had with me and when packing up my things that day I pulled it out and read it. In her closing sentence she wrote,
“Mail is a fortune to some people but appreciate the people you read your mail with.”
Initially I didn’t understand it so asked her to explain. She was referring to the weekly newspaper and regular delivery of junk mail to express that there are some people in the world who read stories and find magic and fortune in them because they may be poor or simply not have means to indulge in the experiences they read about. She expressed that while articles and stories were nice it was even nicer to be able to read them with those you love and appreciate, to share the magic with them.
After she explained herself my emotions got predictively messier. So there I was reading it and unexpectedly getting teary-eyed to then look up and stare at the old man across the room with headphones on, the world around him disappeared.
It dawned on me in that moment that for him, that private space was magic and fortune that I’d selfishly confiscated. Carrying a sense of shame I left without looking back.
While this appears to be a written confession it’s more aptly intended as a reminder to myself of how easily observation can turn to judgement to then take a course of action based on the self-perceived snapshot of a person’s life.
It reminded me of the widely used rule of first come, first serve and how it doesn’t have value in practical application if we take a moment to look in a person’s eyes to take action based on what our intuition knows but can’t articulate in a brief dance of eye contact.
I won’t return to that particular place as I sense my presence was only to learn a lesson of first see, then serve.