My son and I were sharing stories about our day at dinner. I went first — which is to say, I interrupted my son and bulldozed his story with my own — because I was absolutely consumed by something that had happened nearly eight hours before. In fact, I had been consumed with it all day, and my son wasn’t the first person to hear about it.
I was driving down a particularly crowded part of town that has been made exponentially worse by near constant construction. At a red light, I took a moment to look at the radio and find a new station. I wanted the SIRIUS Elvis channel, but I was in my husband’s truck. His radio is always set to sports talk radio. Annoyance Number One.
So I got distracted with my husband’s new-fangled touchscreen radio (Annoyance Number Two) and missed when the light turned from red to green. But I couldn’t have missed the change for too long, because the cars beside me had only just begun moving. Forgetting the fact that I was in fact messing with the radio, my delay could have been attributed to some people’s regular reaction time, or even the amount of pick-up in a car.
Despite all of this, the woman behind me lay on her horn like we were driving — or, waiting for the green light — in New York City at rush hour. Car horns can say two things: “You’re an idiot,” or “Oops, I think you forgot to look at the light, and this is a friendly reminder that it has now turned green.”
The driver behind me chose the former.
When I looked in my rearview mirror, she was mouthing unprintable things and making hand motions that weren’t friendly. This caused me to take even more time getting going. I was flustered and, honestly, now a little distracted by the level of the woman’s outrage caused by a second’s delay at a green light.
The truth, of course, is that I’ve been that outraged woman, minus the profanity and hand motions, more times than I care to admit. I’ve questioned people’s driving skills under my breath, and, yes, I’ve used my horn as more than just a friendly reminder.
But now it was me on the receiving end, and I was really annoyed. I was angry all the way to the post office, actually, and then, I was probably frustrated with people there, too. No one could park correctly, and my PO Box was filled with old magazines my husband still gets but never reads and then leaves in a pile in the living room. (Annoyance Number Three.)
I can only imagine how stressed out the woman behind me at the light felt the rest of her day. I mean, I did make her a fraction of a second late.
By the time I got home for dinner, I was annoyed with a lot of things, like, mainly, what to make for dinner.
“I mean, why are people in such a rush anyway?” I said to my son as I finished my story. “Give a driver the benefit of the doubt, right? Sheesh.”
At this point, I became aware that I was cutting my spaghetti quite aggressively. My son was quietly listening to my story, even if he did seem a little taken aback by my level of annoyance.
“So what was it that you had wanted to say?” I asked.
My son shared his story. His face was calm and relaxed. He was smiling from the inside out. Apparently, he had said hello to a random stranger, an elderly woman, in passing. He didn’t even say, “How are you doing?” or mention the weather. It was a simple, friendly hello.
The woman walked past him and then she turned around, took his arm and said, “You’re the first person who has said hello to me all day.”
That was it.
Both of us had had small moments that seemed insignificant, time-wise, against the entirety of out day. Just one second to blare the horn. One second to say hello. But my moment mushroomed into a chain of other stressful moments. His just made him, and I’m sure the woman, happy.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that small, simple, free things can make a big difference. As we move into the holiday season, let’s all try to be the person who says hello, not the one who blares the horn.