It’s so easy to sit down over a glass of wine and complain to your husband that your kids misbehaved all day and listen to him as he rolls his eyes and talks about a coworker whose attitude is irritating. We complain that there aren’t parking spaces close enough to the store or that we’re annoyed that this is our third trip to the grocery store this week because we never make a good enough list. We complain about a lot of things, but how often do we really sit back and talk about how fortunate we are to have the kids who misbehaved all day when so many people struggle to have children of their own?
How often do we sit down and smile at our husbands as they complain about a coworker with an attitude, because he has a job? How often do we say a quick thanks for good enough health to walk from the back of the parking lot to the store or that we have the ability and the funds to go to the grocery store three times a week and pick up things we forgot the first two times? We don’t. Sure, we might say a quick thanks and appreciate our lives a little more when Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, but in general how often do we complain about life when in reality it’s not so bad?
I’m guilty of this. I complain. I complain when the kids are terrors for 10 solid hours a day or when I have to stand in line behind someone using 500 coupons at the store because it takes a bloody year to check out. As of yesterday, however, I’m taking my complaining down a notch, because reality hit me in a way that was very hard to deal with.
Yesterday was the 5th day of the New Year. It was a beautiful, sunny Florida day with temperatures in the low 70s. While my wonderful husband stayed in the home we were able to build when we were 20 and 21 with our healthy, napping one-year-old and our healthy, playing four-year-old, I drove his bright red two-seater convertible – which he paid for with cash when he decided he wanted it – to the grocery store with the top down. I was annoyed because I was behind someone driving slowly and I wasn’t in the mood to listen to any of the music that was playing.
I parked at the grocery store and found myself annoyed at how long it took to make a sub at the sub shop and how people continuously stop in the middle of the aisles and don’t get out of my way. I was annoyed that there were only 18 lunchables available and that’s only enough to get my daughter through three and a half weeks of school and I like to buy things like that for the entire month at a time. I was annoyed that they didn’t have the wine I wanted and I had to buy two bottles of my second favorite choice. I was annoyed.
All that went away as I stood in line to checkout behind a family with a little boy around the same age as my youngest. They were probably a few years older than me, maybe mid-30s. They weren’t wearing designer clothes or nice shoes and they didn’t have professionally done hair or nails. As I stood there unloading my shopping cart, complete with the giant cookies from the bakery that cost $2.99 a cookie because my daughters don’t like the ones they give out for free, and a sub that has nothing but mayo and mustard on bread that cost the same as a complete sub with meat because my oldest daughter doesn’t like anything else on her sandwich, I realized what a terrible person I’ve become. As I unloaded $200 worth of groceries during my third trip to the grocery store in four days, I listened as the little family in front of me told the cashier that they needed to put their milk and peanut butter back because they didn’t have enough money to pay for that, along with their bread, eggs and their baby’s food.
My heart began to hurt and I had to take deep breaths to keep from crying. Here I was, complaining about all the good things I have in life and feeling ungrateful for all of them while this family was trying to decide which of the bare necessities they needed most and which they’d have to live without while they held onto their young son. I felt horrible on so many levels. I immediately felt embarrassed for myself for being so shallow and ungrateful. There was only one thing I could do, and that was to ask the cashier to continue ringing up their groceries and add them onto my bill so that a little boy the same age as my youngest daughter wasn’t hungry.
They were very grateful. Their thanks should have made me feel good about myself, but instead I felt worse. I didn’t feel good buying someone’s groceries for them. Instead, I felt like I was making them feel worse. I felt like I was telling them, “You’re a charity case. Here, let me help you because I have the means.” I wondered all the way home if they were on their way home feeling embarrassed and ashamed that I’d turned them into a charity case. My husband told me that I did something wonderful, but I didn’t feel good about it. I didn’t do it to feel good about myself, but I didn’t think that I’d feel so awful for doing it.
Today we went to church. Our pastor began a new sermon series for the New Year and today he talked about storms. He spoke of the storms we all face in our own lives, how God is with us through each storm, and how we are put into places in our lives for a reason; God wants us where he wants us when he wants us, whether it’s to make a difference in someone else’s life or to learn a lesson of our own. At the end of the service he said a few words about miracles, and how there are miracles everywhere. He then encouraged us to try and be a miracle for someone else this week. That’s when I finally felt good about what I’d done. I finally realized that I’d been someone’s miracle – for what I think might be the first time – and that they were probably grateful for that and will one day pass my kindness on to someone else who is need of a miracle.
I feel good that I was able to help someone who seemed to need it so, and that I was able to help a child. However, I feel that rather than being a miracle for someone else, I was put in this situation to learn a lesson. That lesson is that kindness is something we can all portray, no matter how busy or tired or stressed we are in our own lives, and that kindness isn’t something that makes us feel good all the time. We can be kind even when we don’t feel like it, when we don’t get any satisfaction out of our actions; kindness isn’t about US – it’s about the other person who is in need of kindness. Furthermore, I’ve learned that complaints are not useful. For every complaint I have, there is a silver lining that puts it into perspective.