While I was in the checkout line at my favorite grocery store this morning, a female customer caused a stir. She walked up to the lady behind me and just kept talking. She might have been speaking Chinese or Korean, or maybe it was gibberish. Clearly she was disturbed.
I tried to ignore her. Soon she was off, just as the cashier prepared to call her manager. The lady behind me laughed, as did other customers and employees nearby. “I don’t care what your problem is,” she said to the checker, speaking of the general You, “just get out of my face.”
The troubled lady was really talking to herself, and she certainly wasn’t in anyone’s face. I felt for her. I wondered how the world might appear to her. And I was ashamed I didn’t speak up for her while everyone laughed and stared.
I’ve been around people who generate odd looks from others. I’ve been that person. I was a patient among patients, hidden away on the psych floor.
But I don’t think I needed this experience to understand compassion. People don’t have to know someone directly who suffers from a disease—compassion for others should naturally take hold of them, simply because another person is in pain.
The grocery store kept operating. Customers bought and retailers sold. A few folks felt briefly uncomfortable and shared their immediate thoughts about it. The world goes on, full of misunderstood people—harmless people, really, who threaten our sense of normalcy. Instead of shunning others, I prefer to ask why I should perpetuate the cycle of fear and cruelty.