Synonyms: affability, amiability, manners, tact.
I set off Friday morning to drive the lady suffering with a swollen bruised aching knee to her doctor’s appointment, knowing I could find her insufferable. I told myself it’s a “mitzvah,” a moral deed performed as a religious duty or even better an act of human kindness. But as it turned out, my morning showed me others practicing civility – nurses at the doctor’s office, the careful people in the crowds, the store employees trained to be civil – all of us practicing forbearance and staying kind, sometimes easy, sometimes not.
So with my mantra “People in pain cause pain” in mind, plus the desire to serve, I set off and, in the process acquired a deeper regard for civility.
In my experience mitzvahs extend past the time you expect them to take. And so it was that the doctor’s appointment lengthened into a trip to Whole Foods to stock up on frozen yogurt, pumpkin ice cream, fruit bits – fun stuff not served at her assisted living facility.
What’s important to remember here is the pain my passenger was experiencing with her left knee stitched, bruised, swollen and greenish. From the moment she slid into my smallish car, I could see that moving that knee would not be easy. Her repeated shrieks of pain as she gingerly positioned the leg gave proof to that.
Not in physical pain myself I was willing to concede that her discomfort warranted a shriek or more when the leg was bumped, but I had to ask her not to curse other drivers when they went about their business without taking into account her distress. I was feeling my own distress in the moment – embarrassment, mortification, and frustration. Grasping for civility, I admonished, “Yelling out the window is not helpful.” I rolled up the window on the passenger’s side.
From the doctor’s office, we took California down to the Whole Foods underground parking entrance and joined the queue threading its way through the narrow rows. With the window up, fellow shoppers could not hear her dispirited comments about their decision-making or their driving. I mentioned that patience is a virtue. Her painful leg, however, dictated that we should arrive immediately at an accessible place and she should get out as quickly as possible despite our position in the line. Fortunately, the underground security agent heeded my urgent signaling and helped my passenger climb from the car. This she did, emitting loud screams, turning alarmed heads.
I parked and joined her at the door where she wait propped between her crutch and a small green grocery cart. I held out my hand to the security agent and thanked him for his assistance, his kindness, his patience, his forbearance, in short – his civility.
Threading through the shoppers, I breathed in forbearance. I had no wish to add my ill will to the atmosphere. Yes, there was a crush of people serious about shopping. It was Friday, a traditionally busy day among chefs and pleasure seekers. Yes, I breathed as we followed her route to the shelves she knew held her treasures. If someone held us up, I would quietly ask the potential cause of a vitriolic outburst to please move aside.
When I paid attention, I saw store personnel milling among the shoppers, facilitating our passage, or so it seemed. With their kindnesses and civility, my injured companion and I made it to the check out stand.
When communication broke down between the young woman at the check out stand and my lady in pain, I realized she was not wearing her hearing aids. So I facilitated the conversation, translating when necessary and helping to unload her green shopping cart. The young woman at check out smiled warmly when the transaction concluded. I thanked her for her kindness. She held out her hand and our fists touched in a gesture of solidarity.
All of us are, at one time or another, in pain and not at our best. So sometimes it is the job of the “can-dos” to do what the “can’t dos” can’t do – be civil and contribute to an atmosphere that sustains the majority. Not that I expect anyone would swing at a woman with a seriously bruised knee, no matter how much pain she unwittingly inflicted. “People in pain cause pain.” Wasn’t that my mantra? I don’t want to be one of those people. Here’s to civility!!