Bill and I began our Thursday morning trail run from the Pretzel Hut. Being there brought back traumatic memories.
It was the first time we have been back there since “the incident“.
The Pretzel Hut is a little ice cream and hamburger stand nestled in a tiny clearing in the woods beside a state highway north of our house. I guess they sell pretzels too.
Six years ago, we took our oldest grandson, then two, there for sandwiches and ice cream. We were new at the grandparenting thing and it had been a while since our own sons were toddlers.
The Pretzel Hut was busy, the line to order food was long, and the little guy was getting restless. As Bill and I discussed our order, our grandson let go of my hand, tore out of line, grabbed a plastic squirt bottle of ketchup on a nearby table, and squirted it into the waist-length hair of the woman standing in front of us before we could stop him.
We were mortified!
Apologizing profusely to the woman, we got a wet napkin and wiped the ketchup out of her hair. A grandmother herself, she was kind and understanding, laughing and telling us not to worry about it.
One other patron, however, an older man, angrily told us in no uncertain terms just how shameful our behavior was. We should have better control over our grandson, he scolded.
We got our order and slunk out of the restaurant, thoroughly chastened.
We were so embarrassed, we haven’t gone back since.
The restaurant is closed now, of course, due to the pandemic but you can access the Horseshoe Trail from its parking lot and that’s exactly what we did.
We spent a wonderful hour climbing and descending, avoiding rocks and roots, getting our trail shoes muddy (as all trail shoes should be), and observing the woods as they slowly came back to life in the spare March sunshine.
At one point I asked Bill to stop. I heard the unmistakable song of a Northern Waterthrush, singing for his mate along a nearby stream bank. We stopped and listened as the little bird, actually a warbler despite his misleading name, filled the woods with his bright, beautiful song.
Returning to the parking lot, we paused to enjoy the animals in the tiny petting zoo behind the restaurant, admiring the white peacock, the fancy chickens, potbellied pigs, and goats.
As I got into the car, I thought again about “the incident“.
I wondered what possessed the man, an observer in the situation, to make such hurtful remarks directed at my husband and me.
The episode was over, the woman whose hair was doused with ketchup, who could legitimately have been offended, was gracious, all three of us apologized. We all learned something – Bill and I learned to keep a tighter grip on our grandson’s hand (for everyone’s safety) and our grandson learned the relief that comes from being offered grace.
The atmosphere surrounding the event completely changed from one of forgiveness and reassurance to one of guilt and shame when we allowed the angry man to alter our perspective.
I see the same type of behavior on social media.
One person will attempt to increase their social standing by self-righteously belittling another’s actions or words.
Friends and followers will jump into the fray, either defending the accused or (more often) piling on with the accuser.
I now know the desire to diminish others comes from deep-seated hurt or shame within the accuser himself. The self-righteous person is actually insecure, unsure of their own worth.
Rather than being intimidated, we should treat them with compassion and understanding but that’s not easy, especially with an audience watching to see how you will respond.
One pillar of Eastern philosophy says “Don’t take anything personally“, and I agree. When someone is trying to shame you, their wrath is usually reflected from the anger they feel toward themselves.
I also believe we should take it one step further. Don’t merely let the stinging words roll off your back, reach out to the accuser and offer grace. With a smile.
Then, let it go and move forward. Don’t allow an angry person to affect your self-esteem.
I wish I had thought of that six years ago, at the time of “the incident“.
I could have been running on the Horseshoe Trail all this time.
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