Friday, April 10, 2015

A cup of karma

The other night, I got home from work early--and that almost never happens. When Frank walked in the door, I said hello and asked how his day was. He sighed and said in a dark tone, "It sucked. It always sucks. Same old shit. Incompetent people and boredom."

I said, "Oh. I'm sorry."
Frank snapped back, "It's not your fault. Don't apologize for things you didn't do. It makes you look weak."
I was a bit startled, and his words and tone felt like a smack. I said, "Oh, well, I am weak. Everybody knows that. But I guess I should have made my sentence longer. What I meant and you didn't understand was, 'I'm sorry you feel that way and you had a bad day.'"

Frank's reaction to my words hurt, I'm not going to lie. I try to never say anything to anyone that I think might cause hurt feelings, anger, embarrassment, or irritation. I didn't speak for the rest of the night.

The next morning, things were back to normal. As I stood in the kitchen eating my breakfast, Frank set about emptying the dishwasher and putting everything away. He picked up my all-time favorite coffee mug, a gorgeous, handmade work of purple pottery that was given to me as a thank-you gift when I worked at the New York Renaissance Festival years ago.

As Frank lifted the mug off the rack, it fell to the floor and shattered. Pieces skittered across the tile, some getting all the way to the next room. I stared at the floor, immediately overwhelmed with sadness and said simply, "Oooo..." the sound trailing off at the end.

Frank started apologizing profusely. He still had the mug's handle in his hand. He said, "I didn't do anything, I swear. I picked it up and the handle just fell off. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I know how much you love that mug." He started picking up the pottery shards.

I took a breath and in an expressionless voice said, "Don't apologize for things you didn't do. It makes you look weak."

He looked up with an expression I couldn't read. It certainly wasn't the kind of thing I'd ever said to him before. I looked down at him and said, "That's exactly what you said to me last night when I was trying to say something nice to you after you had a bad day. It's called compassion. You know, when you feel bad for another person's experience."

"Frank stood up, paused and said, "OK, I get it. Point taken." There was not a trace of snark in his voice.

I'm so tired of trying to be nice, say the right thing, show kindness and concern and getting my wrist slapped. What the fuck is wrong with people? At least in this round, I got to illustrate how that feels.

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