Choosing Joy: How A Stranger At The Grocery Store Almost Destroyed Me

Most Sundays are wonderful for our family. We sleep until either our four-year-old climbs in bed with us or our two-year-old starts shouting about how full her diaper is, whichever comes first. We have breakfast. We shower and get dressed. We go to church.

Today, I am sorry to tell you, was not that kind of Sunday.

I’ll spare you all the logistical details, but long story short, our girls enjoyed their Sunday school classes while I cooked breakfast for some friends and my husband (a deacon) handled some tedious-but-super-important tasks at church.

(I don’t usually take our kids to church and then bail. I swear.)

(Like, this is the first time I have EVER done that.)

(IT WAS ALL IN THE NAME OF OFFERING REST AND LOVE TO OUR FRIENDS.)

I needed to pick up the girls at church by 10:30, so at 10:15, I left my house. I’d been looking for a time to buy some fresh flowers for our mantle–there is a giant vase on top of it that has been empty for too many days in a row–so I decided to swing by the store on my way to church.

(OH, PAST ANNE, PLEASE JUST GO STRAIGHT TO CHURCH.)

By the time I reached the grocery store parking lot, I had about ten minutes to select flowers, purchase them, and get back to church. Not that there is a hard and fast pickup time for the girls’ classes, but I didn’t want to be too late.

I’m sure you can imagine my delight when I saw a vacant parking space in THE FRONT ROW of the grocery store parking lot. So much delight! Because you know what I didn’t want to spend forever trying to do? PARK. This was going to make my grocery trip SIGNIFICANTLY faster and easier, and I was thrilled.

Now, the parking spot was actually facing the opposite way from the direction I was heading. In order to get my car into it, I had to pull a wide-angle-turn-type-thing, which is probably not allowed. I freely admit that this was a questionable parking maneuver. However, from where I sat, it seemed that no one else was close to the space. So I did it.

This, apparently, was The Very Worst Decision.

There was another car at the far end of the row, heading in the direction of the parking space. I did not see it until I was already parking. It was far away, definitely not within parking-space-claiming distance, but that car contained the woman who would melt my soul minutes later.

(I’ve had a hard time describing this parking situation to people, so I drew a diagram.)

FullSizeRender (4)

(That’s the store on the left. It got cut off in the picture, because apparently, I cannot be a real person today.)

Because the other car was so far away, I did not even consider that they might have been heading for that specific parking spot. It is important to note that I am not a cutter-offer, nor am I a parking space thief. I am overly conscious of these things because I know how irritating it is when people are inconsiderate in public places (or anywhere, really).

(One of you is already planning to send me a note about parking lot etiquette. Please, for the love of all things right and holy, I beg you: NO.)

I got out of the car, blissfully ignorant of the mayhem I had apparently caused. I walked inside, ready to buy flowers in my remaining eight minutes of spare time.

She approached me as I fished through the selection of cut flowers.

“Were you driving a small silver car?” the woman asked. Not unkindly, and not in a threatening way. She asked it in the way you might ask someone if they knew which aisle the baked beans were on.

I smiled–I remember smiling because I was happy to have found some tulips–and said, “Yes. Why do you ask?”

Flat tire? Lights on? Maybe I dropped something on my way in?

“You pulled into the parking lot illegally,” she said, suddenly harsh. “And you took the parking space I was going to park in. You are incredibly rude.”

Oh.

Oh. 

I apologized. I offered to move my car so she could have the space. I forgot about the tulips.

“No,” she said in reply to my offer. “Just have better manners next time.”

And then she walked away.

You know how people describe their stomach sinking to their toes? I felt it. It slithered all the way down to the bottoms of my feet. And then it went down even farther.

I tried to go back to the tulips, but suddenly, they weren’t quite as pretty as they were before. And they cost $10, which seemed kind of steep. I saw an old friend from college and managed to put together some halfway cohesive sentences, but all I could think about was:

I am not a mean person. I did not mean to upset her. I apologized. I offered to make amends. But she is still angry. Why? 

It was all I could think about.

With my flower mission shot to pieces, I decided to find the woman again before I left. I walked the length of the store and then back again, finally locating her at the deli counter.

“Hi,” I said. “I just want you to know that I didn’t see you out there. I didn’t mean to take your space.”

She looked me right in the eye. “It’s still illegal to pull in like that.”

Right… got it. 

“The thing is,” I went on, hoping she’d understand, “I have two small kids that are waiting to be picked up, and I was trying to be quick.”

“We’re all in a hurry,” she said, and stared at me some more.

That was the moment I knew it didn’t matter. There was nothing I could say. In her mind, I had committed an unforgivable parking lot crime. No matter how far away from that parking space she was, or what my situation might have been, I had offended her grievously. She hadn’t accepted my apologies or explanations, and she never would.

I was crushed. I cried the entire way to church. I held back my tears while I picked up my kids, but then the moment we pulled away from the church, I sobbed all the way home. I cried as I fed my kids lunch. I texted my friends and husband about what had happened and tried to believe the truth of their encouragement.

But all I heard were lies.

You are a terrible person. Why would you do that? Why wouldn’t you follow the mandated path of the parking lot? This is all your fault. She was right to shame you. She was right to reject your amends. You are dirt. 

These were literally the thoughts running through my head all afternoon. It didn’t matter what anyone else said–I was dirt.

But then, after a lunch of leftover breakfast foods and an episode of Dr. Who and a healing conversation with my husband, I realized something.

I could let this woman destroy me, or I could choose joy.

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s mulling over a negative event. I’d already texted people about it, which was painful. And then I’d engaged in conversation about it with my husband, which was even more excruciating (though ultimately therapeutic) . But now, I needed to mull.

So I did.

I thought about that woman. How she’d gotten so upset over a parking space. How she’d refused my apologies and my offer to make it right. How my explanations rolled right off of her onto the floor, and how she just stared at me, cold and unmoving.

Maybe that woman has a spotless driving record. Maybe she’s never once been pressed for time and performed a questionable parking lot move. Maybe she’s never tried to slip in an errand while her kids aren’t in the car simply because it’s so much easier.

Maybe… but I doubt it.

What’s more likely is that she feels undervalued. Maybe her husband treats her badly. Maybe he actually left her. Maybe her kids walk all over her. Maybe she’s had a terrible day, a terrible week, a terrible life, and she feels like the only person who will fight for her is her.

It was a parking space. But to her, obviously, it was the final straw–and I was the target in her crosshairs.

Can I choose to let this woman’s evaluation of me as “rude” shame me?

Can I choose to let her verdict that I need to “have better manners” condemn me?

Can I beat myself up for choosing to go to the store in the first place, and then choosing to follow up with her before I left, when I clearly wasn’t going to fix anything?

Sure. I could do all of those things. And for a while this afternoon, I did.

But I refuse to let that temptation devour me. I refuse to believe the lies. I refuse to let one stupid parking lot mishap shape the rest of my day, my week, my life.

Instead, I choose to remember how I’ve loved people well this week. I choose to focus on my toddler’s “I wuv you, Mama” instead of that woman’s You are incredibly rude. I choose to remember our friends’ thankful hearts when they saw the breakfast I made for them.

I choose joy.

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