I stood at our church’s pulpit on a spring Sunday morning, speaking about the Bhagavad Gita’s virtue of non-anger. The following words slipped out of my mouth, “I’ve intentionally worked with no-anger for many years, and I do not remember the last time I was angry; I don’t remember what it feels like.” Uh-oh – the moment I spoke I realized I had just invited the Universe to give me a grand opportunity to prove this to myself one more time! I admitted this to our congregation, we all laughed, and then I headed home to begin the new week.
On Thursday afternoon I remembered I had forgotten materials required for my weekly Thursday night class. I now needed to drive 21 miles south to our home in the suburbs to pick them up and then drive 28 miles back north to our church. I had to squeeze this in between finishing with my last client at 5:30 pm and the class which began at 7:00. Rushing home, I kept running into inevitable traffic jams. Finally arriving near home, I saw my gas tank registered empty. I pulled up to the pump at my regular gas station only to see a sign, “Credit card machine out-of-order. Please pay inside.” Not knowing how much I owed, I fortunately found a twenty-dollar bill in my billfold and rushed inside to pay. Three people stood in line before me. The first one wanted to buy a brand of cigarettes this station didn’t carry so he had to consider-consider-consider what other brand to buy. The next customer was quicker and I sighed with relief when only one remained in front of me. She wanted to buy a scratch lottery ticket. She did, she scratched, she got a winning number, and now wanted to buy three more tickets with her winnings. She proceeded to continue winning and buying yet more tickets to scratch! Ready to scratch her eyes out as well as the attendants, I stepped forward in a strident “I’ve had enough of this…” voice to ask, “Do you mind stepping aside so I can pay for my gas?” To which the young attendant replied, “Ma’am, please be patient, she was here first.” To which I replied as I slammed my twenty down on the counter, “Here – take this money, open up my pump, let me get the gas I came in here to get about an HOUR ago – this IS a gas station, isn’t it? Think about how to run this store with respect to ALL your customers, and get a clue!” Then I stormed out, pumped just enough gas to get me to class and back (saving time here…) and returned to the store for my change. She quickly handed it to me and I stormed out with nary a nod.
Muttering, I drove home and ran into the house for my class materials. I began to cool down and emerge from my fog of anger, Shaking, I was appalled at how I had reacted. Even in my earlier years before practicing non-anger, I did not remember ever being so to rude to someone who was just trying to do their job the best they could. I struggled with what to do? My personal discipline commitment was that if I did something I regretted it was a priority for me to correct it as soon as possible. But I was late to class!!!! Yet this was a class on how to apply spiritual principles to our daily lives! How could I teach this to others if I was blatantly emoting my frustration onto harmless people? Hoping my assistant would listen to the church voice mails when she arrived for class, I grabbed my phone and left a message that I was running late, to begin with a meditation until I arrived. Then I drove back to the station, took a deep breath, and with pounding chest, sheepishly walked in to find the attendant to apologize. She was nowhere in sight. Another woman was assisting customers so I walked up and said, “I was in here earlier and there was a young woman at the register. I wonder if I can talk with her?” To which she replied, “Oh, she just left to go home. Someone came in here this evening who was really mean to her and she broke down crying. I am the manager, and I told her she could take the rest of the night off. Can I help you?”
With a heavy heart, I replied, “I believe I am that mean customer and I came in to apologize to her”. I then shared my story; offered a sincere apology, told the manager how I realized what a difficult job they had, and asked her to please apologize to the girl for me. As I began talking it was difficult, yet as I continued I felt a load lift off my heart. The manager listened silently and then responded. “I have been here for over ten years. I’ve dealt with every kind of customer there is, but in all those years, I’ve never had someone come back to apologize. You just made my day. I will definitely let her know, and I am sure it will help a lot.” At that moment a man who had been buying a coffee walked over to add, “I’ve never heard anyone do that either. Lady, you have a lot of courage to do that. I am thankful I was here to see this.”
Thanking them both, ready to cry from relief, I returned to my car and drove 28 miles to class, committing to again work with non-anger. Upon arrival, I shared my experience with the class, giving myself one more opportunity to practice humility. This is only one of many opportunities presenting themselves to me in life where I have erred and thus face a choice. Shall I hold it in my heart or to fess up and apologize? My journey has taught me to fess up. When I hold back, I feel heavy, contracted, and selfish, as if I am placing defense of my ego above respect for others. When I do apologize, I release my self-judgment, demonstrate compassion for others, and add one more layer of courage to come from truth. The response from others is overwhelmingly gracious. I try not to test this very often (smile), but when life requires it, I can take this one more step forward on my journey.
Let’s give the Gift of Apology, and equally, let’s give the gift of graciously accepting an apology from others.
May you have nothing to apologize for and if you do, have courage to be the Light you came to be.
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