As everyone hunkers down in various levels of COVID-19 shutdown mode, there is no shortage of jokes about how we will have to relearn normal societal behavior once we are in each other’s company again. For one thing, many people will have to get used to wearing pants again. For me, if I ever go back to wearing mascara, I’ll have to remember not to rub my eyes, the way I freely do now. Once I’m back in public, I also may or may not have to remember that I shouldn’t burp loudly whenever I want. But, more importantly, we may have to remember how to simply act in each other’s company again.
Since the 2016 election, I have displayed a magnet on my car that reads: Make America Stronger Together. But recently, in a neighbor’s yard, I have seen a sign I like better: Make America Kind Again. It’s an important sentiment and worthy of repeating to ourselves, in case we get caught up in the heated rhetoric of the day and lose our sense of kindness. It happened to me.
I am of Sicilian decent and a New Jersey native, so “kindness” may not be the first word others associate with me. Despite my tendency to loudly voice opinions (while frantically waving my arms, of course), mostly, I am kind in the big important ways but I definitely fall short in certain instances. My husband, Brent, is much more kind than I. He is always kind. For instance, on the phone, no matter how long he is kept on hold, and no matter how many annoying answers he receives from unhelpful customer-service agents, he remains kind. Even on my best day, those are the situations in which I am most likely to lose my cool.
Recently, I lost it in a situation that really didn’t call for it. At the post office, I asked the clerk a question about priority express mail. Her answer seemed to contradict a sign mounted right above her, that described various postal services. I kept asking the question and she kept answering but we were clearly not understanding each other. I got madder and louder. She did not. Finally, we arrived at an agreement and I thanked her and left, but not before drawing incredulous looks from other patrons and clerks.
Later, I replayed the conversation in my head and realized that, while the clerk’s answers were confusing, she was doing her best and I was being a jerk. A few hours later, I returned to the post office to apologize. The clerk who deserved my apology was away on lunch break. The other clerks seemed to remember me (go figure!). One had an expression that seemed to indicate he was afraid I had returned to gun them all down. When I explained I was actually there to apologize, he, and the other clerks, changed their expressions. All of this was, of course, communicated with eyes and body language, since the bottom halves of our faces were all masked.
I asked the clerks to please pass on my message of apology to the clerk I had unleashed on. I explained that I try not to be a jerk but sometimes I am a jerk. Since then, I try to imagine that my husband is at my side whenever I encounter another human in person or on the phone. While summoning my inner Brent, I try to get things right the first time, without having to go back later to apologize. So far, it is working as I try to do my part to make America kind again.