What We Don't Know

She was just a bitch.


I was in a bad mood myself, camped outside the immigration office with sore feet and growing hunger. My appointment time had passed nearly an hour beforehand and the sun was getting stronger. There wasn't a long line, which made the wait all the more frustrating, but the woman in front of me was acting like this was the worst day of her life.


"My appointment was ten minutes ago. Why am I still waiting?" I gave some sort of mumbled nonanswer and she glared at me. "What are you here for?"


I was a bit snippy and told her I didn't feel like discussing the details of my immigration status with her. She huffed and turned around, turning back every five minutes or so to lodge another complaint. It's too hot. My back hurts. I shouldn't have to wait. Why are they being impatient with me?

I listened and tried to keep my face neutral (not an easy thing), but I'm pretty certain my body language was making it clear that I didn't feel comfortable complaining about an administration that was, you know, right there. Pissing off the guards didn't seem like the best idea.


We were finally let in together, and of course she got stopped at the metal detector. It took nearly ten minutes for them to find the little dongle-piece of her phone charger that had set it off; she huffed again as we were finally escorted to the next waiting room.


I purposely chose the chair on the opposite side of the room as her, but a few moments later she dropped her massive purse with a thunk and shoved her paperwork under my nose. She asked me to translate a box, which I did, and she scribbled in the answer.


She didn't make any move to say thank you, and I was internally saying of course she wouldn't when she was called up to the window. "I need to file paperwork, I lost my husband a year ago today."


Look, I know the cliches. You never know what others are going through. Treat everyone like they're going through a battle. Offer grace in your ignorance. It's not a new lesson.


But this moment convicted me more than any other had. Yes, she was being short, but there was a reason behind it. Meanwhile I was annoyed (and, honestly, fairly bitchy myself) just because I was in poor mood wrapped up in red tape. I could have been a bright spot, or at least a patient face, on that difficult day. Instead I let the circumstances around me dictate my emotions. I have a friend who never gets mad when a car cuts him off because "maybe they're heading to see their mom in the hospital, you just never know." It's a bit tongue-in-cheek and dramatic, but the point stands.


I don't tend to show my anger; if a woman in the grocery line cuts in front, or a man steps on my toes on the metro, I'll feel frustrated but I won't start a confrontation. I sometimes make the mistake of thinking that this means I don't let things get to me. Yeah, I don't scream, but I'll set my face or carry tension in my jaw; I'll be short with my husband or a friend a few hours later; I'll give terse answers to another impatient woman instead of sympathizing. And I'll be thinking the worst of them in my head, but it's not fair, and it's not what I would want if I were in their shoes.


Again: not a revelation. But a good reminder to myself to be kind. Cause you never know.