I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
It was a beautiful sunny day in Chicago yesterday so I walked over to my local Starbucks and ordered a tall mediocre coffee. As I stood at the counter and waited for my drink, I looked around at the people. The place was packed. Literally every table had been taken and you could see people standing along the windows just waiting for someone to get up so they could swoop in. It was like this often. This particular location is in a high-traffic area and is notorious for never having a place to sit. I had gotten there directly in the middle of the school rush. Meaning, the local upper class kids were now walking the streets and filing in line to order their $6 drinks. My neighborhood is an eclectic mix of young and old, wealthy and poor, and of varying colors and nationalities. Some people are relaxed and chill and others stand around with a smug sense of superiority. It really is a fair cross-section of humanity.
The baristas are working furiously. You could see them getting irritated with each other as they looked up and saw that the line was backed up almost to the door. After placing my order, I stood at the end of the counter with about 10 or so other people waiting for our drinks. Some people stared at their phones and some huffed audibly, as if the people making their drinks were purposely part of some work slow-down conspiracy. I had nowhere to be so I just leaned up against a pole and looked around the place silently judging.
The barista looked up and shouted out the name on the drink. As he went to go set the coffee down, the lid came off and half of the drink spilled all over him and the counter. People jumped back and most everyone was visibly irritated and took personal offense to the accident, because how dare the super busy guy sweating through his hat be so careless. But everyone just stood and watched this guy wipe down his arms and just jump right back on the line, having to begin all over again while his co-workers gave him the side eye. This poor guy. It made me think back to my teenage jobs of pizza shops and video stores and that anxious feeling of messing up the flow of a line while everyone silently and not-so-silently scrutinized my work ethic.
But there we were, about 15 of us now, just watching this guy attempt to catch up. All while the puddles of coffee were pooling there in front of us on the counter two feet away from everyone.
I have called people racist names. I have punched people in the face with brass knuckles. I have stolen from employers. I have cheated on women. Broken the windows of my enemies. Slashed tires. Robbed houses. And spit in the face of countless jerks. But that is my past. And I refuse to be defined by the actions of my past irrational behavior. I have a quality set of friends in my life. Wonderful people who I can finally say that I trust more than I have trusted before. I am closer to my mother than I ever have been and I have finally learned what it means to be a true and equal partner. Because I don’t want to go back to what I was and I will do everything that I can to evolve past the shittiness inside me that so badly wants to come back out.
I want to be better than I was. Every day. Better than the day before. And I do. I actively try. Because like I want to make my corner of the world just a little less shitty. Our behavior is a direct representation of our character. And we can all talk a good game about how we want to be better people and treat each other with respect but it’s all bullshit unless we put it into practice. Reblogging passionate and positive memes on your Tumblr or Facebook or Instagram means absolutely nothing if you’re going to walk out your front door with an air of entitlement and be an asshole to random people who don’t deserve it. Again, because your behavior is a direct representation of who you are. And are you happy with what you are putting back out into this world? Because you will never deserve what you are not willing to give.
You do not deserve love and understanding if you are not willing to give love and understanding.
You do not deserve compassion if you are not willing to give compassion.
And you certainly do not deserve respect if you are not willing to give respect.
So I reached over and grabbed a handful of napkins, excused myself through the impatiently crowd waiting for their drinks, and wiped up the spill. The barista didn’t see me wipe it up and that didn’t matter. What did matter was that everyone else did. And I didn’t do it with a smug attitude, I didn’t do it for a pat on the back, and I didn’t do it for recognition. I did it to be an example. Because I am aware that people see and read into my behavior. I am also aware that people are influenced by my behavior.
So like the saying goes, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Hold doors. Smile at the homeless. Say “good morning”. Buy her pizza. Sing songs. Write notes. Hold hands. Pay it forward. Listen. And if someone spills something, help them clean it up. Because who you are is what you put back out into the world.