“Hey, lady! You can move your damn car up now!” The silver-haired man behind me leaned out the window of his fancy, expensive truck and rudely yelled at me.
Without much thought, I reacted. Stooping to his level, I stuck my head out of my window and yelled back to the man, “What? Are you in a rush or something?”
He responded, “Yeah, I am. Move it already!”
Was he really this angry that I was holding him up in the drive-thru? Sure, there were 12 inches or so between me and the car in front of me. There were also three additional cars in front of that one. We were getting nowhere fast. What was he hoping to gain by yelling at me?
I looked at my daughter in the passenger seat and my son in the backseat, who were both confused and saddened by what they had just witnessed. We were at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru, ordering our breakfast on a rainy Sunday morning. It was a holiday weekend, we were on our way to a soccer tournament, and we all had the following day off — a bonus day free from school and work. Presumably, there was nothing in the world to be upset about. Then this man let his anger out — and I allowed it to be contagious.
I couldn’t calm my own anger after this absurd exchange. I was angry that he yelled at me in front of my kids. I was angry that I responded to him like I did. I wanted to let my own anger go, but it kept growing as I sat in line, waiting to order our breakfast. I told my kids I was so mad that I had to roll my window up so that I wouldn’t keep yelling at this guy.
Then, I stopped and wondered: What kind of a person sticks their head out of the car window at a drive-thru and aggressively and angrily yells at a stranger in the car in front of them? What has happened or is happening in his life to make this man so miserable?
I looked back at the silver-haired man. I had moved up the 12 or so inches, at his “suggestion,” while he sat parked in the same spot. He hadn’t moved an inch. Suddenly, I felt compassion for him. I’m not sure what his story was, but I can tell you that he must have been suffering in some way. I remembered something my friend Liz has told me over and over again: Unloving people teach us how to love.
I was thinking about this as my kids and I slowly made our way to the pick-up window to pay for our order, when I had an idea. Respond to hate with love. This was the perfect time to give it a try and treat someone who seemed unlovable with love.
I asked my kids what they thought of the idea. “I think I’m going to pay for that guy’s food. What do you think? Maybe he will learn a lesson through kindness.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” they said in unison. “Do it, Mom!”
We were in agreement. We told the cashier we wanted to pay for the order of the man behind us.
“Don’t do that,” said the cashier. “I heard how rude that man was to you, and I wanted to apologize to you for having to put up with that. You can’t pay for his meal after that!”
I knew, however, that no harm would be done in treating his anger with one small, loving action. “Maybe this man will learn a valuable lesson through kindness. We will pay for him.”
And so we did. $7.83. A small amount to pay for a valuable lesson. I hoped the man smiled or felt a small pang of warmth in his heart when the cashier told him his food had been paid for. I hoped his anger was paused for a moment or two. I hoped that the next time he wants to stick his head out the window and yell at a perfect stranger, he pauses, breathes, and chooses kindness instead.
And then I realized that the valuable lesson was all mine. Maybe my action made a change for the better in that man’s life and maybe it didn’t; without a doubt, it changed me that Sunday. It stopped my anger dead it’s in tracks and replaced it with love.
Martin Luther King, Jr. told us that, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” I experienced this firsthand that Sunday morning. My hate and my anger were driven out by the choice of kindness, by choosing love. I witnessed how anger can be contagious, and learned that so, too, is love. My one small action served as an example to my kids and maybe even to the Dunkin’ Donuts cashiers. It also replaced my anger with a much more pleasant feeling, one I brought to the soccer game with me and throughout the rest of my day.
All this from the silver-haired guy in the truck. Thanks, to him, for teaching me something about love.
This article originally appeared in our sister print magazine, Woman’s World.