Ever have someone kick you when you’re down?
Be cruel when you need compassion?
Meet No-Budge Beulah.
Friday mornings have become movie morning with my boys. Kyle’s leukemia makes online college a necessity and Alek picks his class schedule with one goal—to have a three-day weekend. Every semester. This week, my mother-in-law was in town too. So we took her with us.
I put Alek and Grandma on popcorn-and-Pepsi duty and Kyle and I headed down the hall. While I wheeled myself in Wanda the Wheelchair, he walked beside me, pausing every five feet to catch his breath and regain his balance.
After thirteen months of aggressive chemo, Kyle had more in common with the congestive-heart-failure, faulty-hip, nursing-home set than he did with his college friends.
The lights in our theater hadn’t yet dimmed and the previews hadn’t started. I wheeled up the ramp, using the railing for leverage, still learning how to get around with my broken ankle. In a few weeks, I’d have Popeye biceps, but for now my arms belonged to Olive Oyl.
We turned the corner, expecting a mostly empty auditorium. The first show almost always consisted of the retired crowd—and us. But it seemed today everyone decided to play hooky.
“I have to sit in the wheelchair row.” I glanced at my useless left foot and the section in front of the railing before the rows began to rise. There were two empty seats left and a place for me to park Wanda.
Which left our crew one chair short. You have to sit together to share the popcorn and I was already doing the Pavlov salivation. I’d see any movie—as long as someone bought me popcorn.
“There’s a spot behind you. I’ll sit there.” Kyle grabbed the rail and hauled himself up one step, which might as well have been two hundred.
Something pinched inside my chest. Sometimes, it physically hurt me to watch him walk.
“Excuse me,” he said to the lady sprawled in the aisle seat in front of him. “Would you mind moving down one?”
She hiked her feet up on the railing and barely gave him a glance. “This is my seat.”
“My mom’s in a wheelchair. And my brother and grandma are coming. I’d like to sit behind them, but I can’t climb over you.”
“Not moving.” No-Budge Beulah turned her back, without even offering to step into the aisle so he could get to the empty seat beside her.
“Please. I can’t—”
“No.” She crossed her arms and looked him right in the face.
A thousand comments flew through my head, but none of them came out my mouth. I kept getting stuck on—did she really just say that?
How could she not see how pale he was or his bald head or notice the effort it cost him to climb that one single step? Worse, how could she not care?
On Jello-legs, Kyle made it back down to me and fell into one of the two empty seats. “Alek or Grandma will have to sit somewhere else.” His voice caught, like he was trying hard to keep himself pulled together.
But No-Budge Beulah had already done her damage. I could see it in his eyes. He’d asked for a little compassion. And gotten cruelty instead.
I touched his hand, wanting to pull him onto my lap like when he was little. I glared at No-Budge Beulah, a little scared of the mental image I had of me waterboarding her with her super-size soda.
The lights dimmed. The movie started. Alek sat by us and Grandma had to find a seat in another row. Two hours in, I was still struggling with my need to lash out at No-Budge Beulah with words that would receive an R-rating.
Like she felt my silent rage, the second the credits rolled, she jumped out of her chair, left her super-size soda, and took off down the ramp I’d rolled up.
We talked about that woman all the way home.
What does it take to kill a person’s empathy? It took her to kill mine. What happened to make her so cruel? Had she never experienced pain? Or had she experienced too much?
And then I really thought about how angry I’d gotten. How I almost starred in my own version of The Exorcist because some clueless woman hurt my son.
When in my life have I taken out my pain and frustration on someone else? When have I been mean? Angry? Even cruel?
I tell my kids to find the take-away in any bad situation. We can’t change how people treat us, we can learn something—even if all we learn is how not to treat other people.
My take-away from today?
Be kind. All the time. No matter what. Turn your empathy on high. Look around for others who are hurting and go out of your way to make a small difference in their day. We have no idea what someone else is dealing with. And we have to encourage each other and stick together.
So next time the waitress leaves you waiting, the clerk is rude, the guy steals your parking spot, and yes, even when No-Budge Beulah is mean to your kid, ask yourself the why behind the behavior.
And before you retaliate, consider offering kindness instead.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
forbearance, KINDNESS, goodness, faithfulness…”
Galatians 5:22 (NIV)
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