Last week, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. I had to pick up a few packages from the post office, but none of the parking spots nearby were open. It was drizzly and I didn't want to carry an armful of boxes in the rain.
My eyes settled on the handicap parking spot across the street, clearly painted blue with a handicap sign posted in front of it. I'll just park there and do a quick in-and-out, I reasoned. I figured it'd take no more than five minutes. So, I parked the Jeep, ran across the street, asked for my packages and ran back out.
As I was packing the backseat of the car, I noticed an old woman staring at me from her parked car. I hurried along and ran to the driver's door.
"You're parked in the handicap spot! Can't you read?!" she screamed at me.
"Yes, I'm just about to leave," I said, flustered.
"You've been parked there for a while!" she screamed back angrily, "Next time, READ!"
Her car screeched off.
The level of hostility that was spewed at me in that brief moment shocked me to the core. I mean, it really disturbed me. It continued to bother me for the next hour or so as I drove.
What a mean old lady, I thought. If the situation were flipped, would I have behaved the same toward her? Certainly not. And, given the chance, how should I have responded? "Sorry you're having a bad day"? That would've been patronizing and sarcastic. No, no, I wasn't prepared enough for a response. It was probably a blessing that I was bewildered and tongue-tied.
I had a stomachache the whole time I thought about it. Her message was indeed warranted–her delivery of it, however, was not. Don't let this ruin your day, I told myself. Nothing that came through my mind made me feel any better. I just couldn't fathom directing that sort of anger towards a complete stranger. After being involved in that awful exchange, I had an even stronger conviction never to inflict such a behavior on anyone else. It was the ultimate reminder that, while you can never control the circumstances, you can always control how you react to it. Eventually, as I went about my errands, the angst subsided.
As I got back into the car to drive home, I thought about it again. Truth was, I knew I shouldn't have parked in the handicap spot. I could've parked further away and walked to the post office. Maybe she was handicapped and I had robbed her of her spot.
Then, the perfect disarming response came to me.
I should've said: "You're right. I'm sorry. Thank you for pointing that out. I'll be more aware next time."