When Cynicism Meets Elation

I walk out of the store with a big, sloppy grin. 

Thirty minutes before, I'd walked into the store with a big, messy tech problem. And in the intervening half hour, I was shown a patience and a caring that I would be telling friends about for days to come. 

But that would all come later. At this moment, I am walking out of the store with that big, sloppy grin. And I've got this great elated feeling in me, so I decide to hold the door for folks who are a good 10-second walk away. 

They rush to the door, thank me, and I decide to wait for the fellow a few seconds behind them. He doesn't rush. And when he gets to the door, he says, What are you, a Girl Scout or something? 

I look at him. I don't want him to think I'm some goody-goody hungry for merit badges. So, I play his game. 

Yeah, I say, my face tightens up. Just trying to get a deposit in the karmic bank. He nods, passes me. 

I bet you're a treat at parties, I think as I watch him walk away. Then I head to my car. 

And I'm feeling pretty sour about the guy's comment. Though really, I'm feeling sour that I ceded my elation to his cynicism. That I lost that big, sloppy grin. 

I reach my car, and as I get in it, I see the guy getting into his car. He's moving slowly. But it's more accurate to say he's moving sadly. He's got the delicate motions of someone trying to keep it all together. 

Oh, I think. I get it now: You're in pain. Isn't that what cynicism usually covers over? 

And I wonder if he might not feel like this is a world where he could risk the vulnerability of his pain. So, it's not hard to see how he'd think this is also a world where only Girl Scouts hold doors. 

I make a little wish to his taillights: I hope your pain gets something like the patience and care I just got. I hope it leaves you so elated that you've got no choice but to hold doors for people. 

And if one of those people makes a dry comment, I hope you see they're in pain, like you once were. Like most all of us are. 

Then I give his taillights a big, sloppy grin. And wish him - and myself - plenty of those, too. 

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