When I Blew It
The Super Center Wal-Mart across town was enormous. Not only were there aisles and aisles of regular shelves and products, now I had to differentiate between an endless array of food goods and avoid even more displays at the end of rows, prominently situated to catch shoppers’ attention. I felt exhausted even before I started.
But I gathered my energy together along with the first sweep of my cane. “I’ll be out of here, tops, half an hour.”
Where did I begin?
I wanted a clothes rack unit. I looked around not even sure where I was now, let alone how to get to where I needed to be. I leaned in to see what was on the shelves around me. Nothing I recognized.
Okay, I’ll ask an employee.
Easier said than done.
I wandered aimlessly around for awhile until suddenly, I saw a red vest. A Wal-Mart employee! “Excuse me, I’m looking for where I can find a clothing rack.”
“Sure, you go down that aisle all the way to the end and you’ll see it next to the vacuum cleaners.”
The employee gave me a nod of satisfaction and went along her busy way leaving me alone and with more questions than I started with.
Which aisle? To the end of the store? Next to the vacuum cleaners? My heart sank. These directions weren’t any help to a vision-impaired person trying to cope with crowds and blurred aisles. She must have been pointing.
Disappointed, I moved forward, my cane leading the way. I stopped to examine the shelving as I inched my way forward among people with clear destinations.
About five minutes later, I stopped and looked hopelessly around me. The store seemed bigger than life, and I almost felt like these products were perched on the shelves, secretly laughing at my confusion.
“I’m going to find it,” I whispered to myself. “It’s here somewhere.”
Finally, I spotted a big red vacuum cleaner on a box. Hooray!
I looked across the aisle as to where the clothing racks should be and stood with my cane straight up and down, peering into the shelves, my nose nearly touching the wares.
“It’s gotta be here somewhere. Racks. Racks. Where are the racks?” I mumbled to myself, feeling a panic set in as they eluded me.
“Can I help you find something?” It was a man, another shopper who had noticed my indecision.
“Oh yes! Bless you! I’m looking for a clothing rack, the kind you fold up and hang pants on … or towels, or…” Was this long explanation really necessary?
“I know just where that is. Follow me. It’s a couple aisles over,” he said, staying close to me until we arrived at the clothing racks.
Of course, they came in boxes. I couldn’t see any prices. I just stood there for a second trying to decide what to do. Take any box?
“Did you want a wooden or metal one?”
I was just about to say, “Wooden,” when the man spoke again. “Personally, I’d take the metal one. It’s just a few bucks more.” He tapped the box. “It has to be better quality. I got a wooden one and it’s flimsy as all get-out.”
“Oh yes, I’ll take the metal one,” I said, lifting the slim box off the shelf. “Thank you so much.”
“No problem,” the man said, “You got it now?”
Now to get to the garden section. I wandered around for another ten minutes. My arm began to tire since I had to carry the rack under my arm while I navigated through the store with my cane.
“Excuse me sir, ” I said spotting another red vest. “Can you please tell me how to get to the garden section? I’m trying to find a cushion for a porch swing.”
“Aisle 12, all the way down.”
I let out a long, frustrated, involuntary sigh. “Aisle 12? To the right or the left?”
He stared at me and I think noticed my cane for the first time. “Do you need my help to get there?”
“Okay, follow me. Do you, um, need my arm?” he asked awkwardly.
“No, just your eyes.” However, after a long walk where it seemed we made a few turns, my stomach was in knots and panic was again swelling inside me, threatening to explode in the form of tears. He was hard to follow.
We stopped at the cushion section. “What were the dimensions?”
The dimensions? I gulped. I thought all porch swings came in one size. Now it looked like all these were made for lawn chairs. What if I put one sideways, would it fit?! The indecision tore at me.
“I’ll just get this one,” I decided, pointing to a bright, cheery cushion with red and yellow flowers.
“You can always bring it back if it’s the wrong size.”
Not on my life!
The clerk guided me to the cashier, carrying both the clothes rack and the cushion while I swept my way to the register with my cane.
When he asked if I needed help to my car, I demurred. The clerk handed me the over-sized cushion and waited while I adjusted the clothing rack so I could take it. My purse strap fell to my wrist and I tried to steer myself with my cane out into the bright sunlight.
I had no idea where the car would be. I walked in one direction then the other. Something like claustrophobia hit me only it was the opposite–the parking lot was overwhelmingly big.
It’s okay, it’s okay. I’ll find the car. It’s around here somewhere, I told myself, on the alert for a red Hyundai. My brother always parked in a handicapped spot. I looked for the signs.
Score! The car! But no brother.
The moans came. Kind of like an extended whimper. The combination of heat, exhaustion, juggling too many objects and not finding my brother set in–all adding up to that out-of-control feeling.
I stood by the car for a few minutes. Finally my brother came.
“Can I borrow a buck?” he asked.
Wrong question. And wrong timing.
“You always want money! Where were you? I needed you! You have no idea what it’s like. You should have helped me. Carolyn always went into the store with me,” and then the worst, “I hate you!”
I dropped everything I was holding, unzipped my purse in mad angry jerks and practically threw the dollar at him.
He hesitated and then said, kindly, “Here are the car keys if you want to turn on the a/c.”
“I don’t want your car keys,” I shouted, knocking them rudely to the ground. “I don’t want anything from you!” My voice was shaking. My fingers were clenched. I jerked open the front car door and slammed it shut. Let him put the stuff I bought away. He could do that much!
As soon as he left, I burst into tears. No one understood what it was like. I hated Wal-Mart. I hated big stores. I hated not being in control. I hated it all!
But it wasn’t more than a few minutes before I calmed down and guilt crept in. I kept going back over my mind to the mean words I’d shouted at my brother, the one who always helped me, even though he wasn’t perfect.
The final words I’d shouted, “I hate you,” reverberated in my mind. I never said those things, and not to my brother. I didn’t even think them.
What was wrong with me? I couldn’t believe myself.
My brother returned shortly, and we rode home in silence.
“I was kind of a jerk,” he finally said.
“No, no, it was me! How can you know I need help if I don’t ask. It was all me. It’s just overwhelming sometimes. It’s not you. That stupid Wal-Mart is soooo big and people aren’t helpful.” I forgot for a second how many did help me.
“I’ll go in with you next time,” he muttered.
“Thank you so much for taking me.” The unwanted tears came. “I just have to get over the fact I cannot do things by myself sometimes and I need to ask for help,” I croaked, brushing at my tears. “People cannot read my mind.”
And don’t I know that. Because then I blow it by taking it out on the wrong person.
I was overwrought. Who knew what damage I had caused by uttering those three ugly words, “I hate you!” It wasn’t true. I loved my brother. He often made me laugh and was always ready to go behind the steering wheel to drive me where I needed to go.
The changing field of what I see and how I handle my challenges exasperates me. The unkind words I shouted in the parking lot that day are proof of my vulnerability and how imperfect I am.
My sister always said, “Communicating what we need is key. But do it calmly and without provoking. You’ll get better results and you won’t shame anyone.”
I try to practice kindness and use my words to build others up, not tear them down but I certainly blew it that day.
Keeping our words in check is something we need to keep uppermost in our hearts and minds as we mature in Christ. But we all blow it sometimes. Our situation overwhelms us and we think we are the only one struggling when the truth is, everyone else struggles too. I don’t think any of us can presume to understand another person’s struggle either. We just have to be kind to one another, controlling our tempers until we regain our perspective. Then we can share our feelings in a more practical way.
How often do you struggle with words? Do you give yourself the right to “let it all out” because you think your struggle is bigger than the other person’s?