It hit me yesterday like a ton of bricks, as I looked over at my husband in the car: the point of a relationship is to comfort one another. As my 8-year-old would say, duh!
It seems so simple, that concept, that we should be able to offer solace, a little salve, to those we love in their moments of need, at the times when it all seems too much. Seems basic that, especially in the case of those we choose ourselves to link to, maybe we choose them because they let us comfort them, because we feel comfortable letting them comfort us. But it is no easy thing letting people in to our world, pushing inside others' worlds. It takes a fair bit of trying and sometimes, despite how easy it sounds, it seems impossible, seems easier to try to handle all those thoughts in your head yourself and not let them seep out for others to see.
But I get glimpses into others' worlds, even strangers', if I offer a bit of gentle comfort, a few sympathetic words or even just an understanding look. It is amazing how a little nonjudgmental observation, a little acknowledgment, can help, for a moment at least.
Take, for example, the man behind me in line at Costco the other day. Lines, especially long ones, seem to offer the best opportunity for practicing what I preach, making those little connections with others. After all, none of us in that moment can be anywhere else and, yet, being there is often so frustrating. So easy, then, to be annoyed and angry.
This man was your classic old school Brooklynite, a gruff 65+, bald and brash but with a barely-concealed softer side, I could tell.
"Hey!" he yelled up past me and another waiting customer to the cashier, in the midst of counting her drawer, a necessary if annoying hold-up. He gestured wildly, his expressive right hand suddenly turned into his sidekick. "What's the story?"
She, of course, paid him no heed if even she heard him at all. I, however, chose to defend her.
"What're you going to do?" I said with a smile. "She has to count her drawer?!"
His stance changed slightly, became less aggressive, more compassionate, if only out of guilt. Still, though, he scoffed.
"Yeah? Well, she has only two modes: slow, and slower."
I laughed a little to get him on my side. A joke teller is always looking for a laugh. But, still, I chastised him good-naturedly. "Yeah, well, she can only do what she can do...they're pretty good here."
He was quiet a moment, then he said, "It could be worse..."
I laughed and nodded. "It could always be worse." I took out a big gold star and gave it to him. His whole face lit up, a big smile spread across his face.
"Do I get this for being a good boy?" he asked.
"Yes," I said, "for your patience waiting."
"Thank you, my Dear," he said, placing the star on his chest, "you have a great holiday!"
"You too," I said.
These are the moments I live for, the ones in which someone switches their mode from mad to glad simply after being offered a bit of perspective. I think we all want to get there, to have someone else give this to us, to let them. Sometimes it's hard to get there yourself. That's what friends and family are for. Or, of course, the occasional stranger handing out gold stars.