I was about to pull out a numbered slip at the deli counter's ticket dispenser when I felt someone push my back. I was sure it was accidental but it startled me enough that I had to stand aside, forgetting to take my number.
Unapologetic for having shoved me aside and quite oblivious to her surroundings, the rushing lady who looked like she was in her 70s, snatched the numbered slip that should have been mine and calmly walked a few feet away to await her turn to order. She looked quite pleased with herself; she had put one over on somebody waiting in line. She was a winner.
Should I protest? Should I give this lady a piece of my mind?
Frustrated at having been treated in such an uncivilized way, I wanted to say something sarcastic about her unladylike behavior.
But I quickly checked myself and defused my anger by laughing at the situation.
"She must remember the long lines of the Depression," I told myself, smiling as I remembered a well-known columnist who once wrote that it was common for people of the Depression generation, even today, to show impatience awaiting their turn at long lines and grabbing every chance to cheat.
"A residue from past behavior, no doubt," I thought. "A bad habit developed during hard times," my thoughts kept coming, obviously consoling myself for having been beat at the deli counter - and by an old lady at that.
To this day, when I think of the incident, I'm glad I didn't let my anger get the upper hand. I feel good about having considered the episode with humor, even though the laugh was on me.
And a week after that incident, I felt doubly sure I had reacted the right way.
At the same grocery store, I found myself in a real hurry to pay for my groceries at the express line. Another customer was also in a hurry and we happened to get to the line at the same time. He looked like one from the Depression generation.
But he smiled at me and graciously gestured for me to go right ahead, even though he only had one item and I could have let him go first. He insisted with another gesture that I take his offer. As with the first incident, no words said.
I felt I was strangely playing a part in a silent movie, the difference being that the first movie with the pushy lady left a bitter taste in my mouth while the second was quite pleasant and meant to make up for the first.
I wondered, who - what moral force - was directing these movies? I wouldn't read too much divine into it. But as I was leaving the grocery store feeling happy after the kind gesture from that old man, I was left with some certainty about our world: I felt there is a certain self-correcting mechanism in our universe, a certain order that things have a way of righting themselves, especially when we watch for it.
* Roger Calip is a freelance writer who teaches writing at LifeLearn, a continuing education center in West Hartford, Conn.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society