A year ago, I was driving home in a sour mood. A friend had just bailed on seeing a movie with me, and I didn’t make it to the theater early enough, so I didn’t get a great seat or have time to get concessions. I found myself sitting in the back row of a crowded theater, packed between two rather large men, and surrounded by screaming young children as I watched Finding Dory by myself without any snacks. I remember the anger I felt at not enjoying my movie-going experience as much as I wanted to. How unjust of the world to rob me of a friend to see it with, a good seat, and popcorn to munch on.
As I left the theater, I passed a woman standing on the side of the street. She looked like she hadn’t showered in days, and she was carrying a piece of cardboard with scratchy letters reading, “Husband died of cancer. Lost job. Lost home. Lost everything. Please help.” And as she stood there, she sobbed and wiped tears from her eyes.
It punched me in the gut. I found myself with an immediate lump in my throat and my own eyes welling up with tears. I made the next available U-turn, parked back in the movie theater parking lot, and bought the woman a couple trays from Cook-Out. She cried and gave me a hug and expressed a gratitude unlike any that had been expressed to me before.
As I left that same parking lot for the second time, my mood had made a dramatic shift. How easy it was to be upset that my movie-going experience wasn’t perfect rather than be grateful that I even had the means to see a movie at all. How irritated I had been to be surrounded by a few loud children and not have any munchies while this woman was surrounded by speeding cars and begging for her first meal in who knows how long?
I drove back by that corner a number of times after that day but never saw the woman again. I hope she got help the help she needed. Now, whenever I feel the urge to complain, I try to check myself and put things into perspective. Nine times out of ten, I find I should be shouting my gratitude from the rooftops instead.
Winston-Salem, North Carolina