Andrea Mara

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An open letter to the person in the place

I’ve read many “an open letter to” posts in the last few years. Sometimes they’re angry, sometimes conciliatory, and  sometimes empathetic. In particular, I’ve read posts about supermarket confrontations – women who have been judged for their parenting, or had some kind of less than pleasant encounter. I wondered when my day would come – at some point, someone was going to tell me I was doing everything wrong.

In the meantime, I thought maybe I’d keep track of the good encounters – some of the times I’ve met kind, empathetic people who make me feel better during tough moments or just lighten things up.

Like when we were waiting for the lift in Lidl, and the kids were crowded around the door, waiting for it to open. Like puppies straining to be let out to play, except of course it’s a lift. Not much room to run, but then again, buttons. My hands were weighed down by two bags of groceries, and my spirit by a fraught twenty minutes spent begging the smallest to stay by my side in the supermarket.

When the doors finally opened, they barrelled into the lift like a hurricane of three, completely ignoring the older man who was trying to get out.

“Kids!” I said, mortified. “You’re supposed to let people out first – you can’t just barge in like that!”

I looked at the man and said sorry. “Not at all,” he answered, smiling. “You’ve your hands full there. But in eight hours you get to go to bed – focus on that.” There spoke a man who knew what it was like to have three small kids. And my shopping bags felt instantly lighter. Thank you man in the lift for lightening the moment.

A few weeks later, again in the supermarket, the kids were running rings around me. Literally, just running in rings. I had popped in for a few essentials (bread, yogurt, blueberries and wine if I remember) and it shouldn’t have taken more than ten minutes but the kids seemed intent on extending the visit. As they raced up the aisle to look at cereal (how cereal generates such excitement, I don’t know) they ran past a woman who was trying to look at coffee – between her and the shelves. “I’m so sorry,” I said to her, “Kids! Calm down, please!”  – partly to rein them in, partly to show the woman that I really was in charge.

“They’re grand!” she said. “They’re only kids – of course they want to run around. Mine were the same. And then I blinked, and they were grown up and moving out. Yours aren’t doing anything wrong – enjoy them!” She was right – they are only kids, and they’re entitled to get exuberant about cereal. Thank you woman in the supermarket for reminding me of that.

cereal - office mum

Then recently, we had an eye appointment for one of the girls in our local out-patients’ clinic, so as always, I headed along with the three kids, and prepared for the hour-long wait to be seen.

The room was packed with restless children and tired parents, sharing the space with elderly people waiting to have casts and dressings done. I stood holding my smallest by the hand, trying to focus his attention on the mute TV screen in the corner. There was a very elderly man sitting just beside us. His arthritic hands were curled around a crutch, and it looked like his foot was in a cast. A nurse came by and picked up the letter that was on the empty chair beside the man – his appointment letter I guess. She asked his name and how long he’d been there. “About an hour,” he said quietly, his voice shaking, “But it’s fine, I don’t mind waiting. It’s busy.” The nurse put the letter back, patted the man’s shoulder, and promised him it wouldn’t be long now.

Just then, my five-year-old realised that the seat beside the man was free. He swiped the letter to the ground and jumped up on the chair. I guess when you’re five, you don’t think that letters might belong to people and you can’t just put them on the ground. I grabbed the letter, turned to the man, plucking my five-year-old back up off the chair.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. The usual mantra.

“Not at all,” said the man. “Sure he’s only small – he doesn’t know. He’s a grand little thing.”

I thanked him and apologised again as I handed him the letter, then turned quickly away because my eyes had filled up with tears. Humbled by the man’s generosity, in awe of his patience.

And some day no doubt, we’ll have a different kind of encounter – someone who tells me crossly to rein them in and calm them down. But for now, I’ll keep tracking the good ones – and it seems to me there are more of them about than we realise.





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