It was a typical day in customer service. Rebecca explained to the customer that she couldn't understand why the woman's order wasn't in the warehouse. That's where it was supposed to be. The warehouse manager couldn't find it either.
Rebecca apologized repeatedly, but this didn't satisfy the woman, who had traveled across town in order to pick up her merchandise. She was furious. Still, Rebecca stayed calm. She was sympathetic and reassuring to the customer until the matter was finally resolved.
Then there's what happened to "Mr. A," as his students called him. He was in charge of an all-day field trip with about 30 sixth-graders, beginning and ending with a noisy two-hour bus ride. No matter. Mr. A. was unfazed. Not once throughout the day's events did he lose his warmth, his sense of humor, or his control.
The same could be said for countless others, every day - teachers, executives, commuters, parents - who are rising above the stressful and heated circumstances we all sometimes find ourselves in. To stay cool in a crunch, to respond with patience instead of exploding - and to do so again and again if necessary - seems almost heroic in light of all the media reports telling us we're living in an age of rage.
It's a strong, loving heart that can encounter the gale-force winds of someone's anger, or of an extremely stressful situation, and still remain calm and kind. It would be a mistake, however; to think that such a firmly grounded, consistently loving heart is a rare commodity. Or that showing extraordinary patience or understanding in an intense situation is nearly impossible.
It happens a lot. Every day. With ordinary people. And the reason that calmness or compassion wins out, sometimes in the worst of circumstances, is the invariable, spiritual source of what fills hearts with love - the totally loving Spirit, God, whose love radiates as constantly and impartially as sunlight. That love is there for everyone, without exception. And it's ours to reflect, plentifully, because of who we truly are, all of us: God's image and likeness. We're the object as well as the reflection of this infinitely loving nature.
Then, why is it sometimes hard to feel more of this unshakable love for others? For me, it's because I sometimes forget about my relation to God, who is Love. Instead, my focus may be on what I think others deserve, or don't deserve. Someone says or does something hurtful, and my love or care for that person is blurred. I may get angry. It can sometimes feel automatic.
But actually, anger doesn't have to be an automatic response. Even in the heat of such a moment, I've found I have a choice. It's a choice I can make long before any encounter. I can choose to love others either if it is deserved, or because it is deserved.
The latter is in the best interest of everyone. And it becomes the most natural thing to do when my attention shifts to divine Love, and my honest desire is to let this constant, purely spiritual love pour into my heart and strengthen my affections. The practical benefits of making this shift are explained in "Miscellaneous Writings" by Mary Baker Eddy, the Monitor's founder. She wrote: "The human affections need to be changed from self to benevolence and love for God and man; changed to having but one God and loving Him supremely, and helping our brother man. This change of heart is essential to Christianity, and will have its effect physically as well as spiritually, healing disease" (pgs. 50-51).
There's no getting around the ups and downs of daily life. Stressful situations happen. People say and do things that shouldn't be said or done. But that doesn't mean our affections have to turn cold or bitter. Staying focused on divine Love, especially in the rough times, makes it easier to resist anger and more natural to be kind and look for ways to help others.
We'll respond this way because we'll know in our hearts that that's what each of us deserves.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor