Dissolving the Bad Day

The business trip had been bone-wrackingly tough. Flight delays. Cranky people. The airlines insisted on gate-checking my bag (no space in steerage for more bags), then broke a wheel on my suitcase, which means I had to carry it instead of roll it. My lock was cut off. I was the random “let’s dig through the bag” person at the TSA. Long day at the client. Delayed lunch. Last-minute extra paperwork. At the end of the day, I am carrying a heavy suitcase down the street, wearing a backpack, puffing hard on the three-block walk and feeling sorry for myself.

I am not thinking of the successful class, the people who thanked me, the person who asked me to autograph the workbook. No, I am focusing on all the mistakes, flaws, and the damn heavy suitcase that no longer rolls. I am, admittedly, in Full Pity Party Mode.

Moon2The sun is setting; I have never loved the late afternoon. I’m a morning person who loves the dawn, and by sundown I’m tired, particularly after a long, intense day teaching business writing.

In this frame of mind, I begin to think of Sundowner’s Syndrome, the depressed state of dementia patients who become agitated in the late afternoon. My mom had Alzheimer’s, so my thought goes right to the idea that I may be next. Maybe I’m already in decline.

The Christmas lights come on in office buildings on the traffic-packed, noisy street. White, twinkly lights wink in tall buildings. Beautiful and cheering, but I refuse to move out of my full-on grump. As I look around, I see a woman sitting against a sturdy stanchion so often seen around big buildings. She is crying. Dressed in just a ragged T-shirt and sweatpants in the winter chill, she looks desperate. I approach and ask if she needs help.

She shakes her head. I put down the suitcase and ask her what’s wrong. She hasMoon1 just come from a state assistance office where she was turned down for help. She is being evicted–before Christmas–and the story is one of bureaucratic mess. She is angry and frustrated. Doesn’t know what to do next. Needs to protect her young son. She’s cold and angry and hungry and I recognize that desperate mix.

Suddenly my own troubles are less threatening. The relentlessly twinkling lights remind me that it’s my job to bring warmth into the world along with light. I ask her when she last ate. More than 24 hours ago. I can do one small thing for her. I bring her into the very fancy hotel with me, the one with the airport shuttle stop. I ask her to carry my backpack (yes, with my wallet and phone) so we can enter looking like we belong together. I’m in business dress, so the hotel concierge raises an eyebrow but says nothing. We stop at the hotel food shop and pick up a healthy dinner for her boy. Then we sit down for dinner in the plush lobby restaurant. I wasn’t planning on eating there, but sharing the decorated and lighted space feels right. And sharing a meal so she will not feel beholden makes the evening seem cozy and not so depressing. We chat about being mothers and chili, and if it should have beans or not.

She wants to thank me and I tell her that she helped me more than she could know. I thank her for keeping me company and helping me see the world in a different way. We walk out and I give her bus fare to get home. We trade my backpack for her son’s dinner and walk in different directions, into different worlds. And mine begins to look a lot brighter.

—Quinn McDonald travels for business and learns more than she teaches.

46 thoughts on “Dissolving the Bad Day

  1. From the Queen of Grumpyland you turned into the Fairy Godmother. That’s what all the advice books say to do when you’re in the dumps: help someone else. You did and you both won. Bless you.

  2. This is the best we can ever do for one another: show empathy and practice real kindness-in-action when someone is being rendered invisible and powerless and at risk of serious harm. You will never know the look on the face of that little boy when presented with a rare good supper–you can only imagine. I love you, Q.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this incredible experience with all of us, Quinn! You are truly a gem and I’m so happy that the two of you were able to help each other. This magical evening is something you will both carry with you for a long time. XO

  4. Wonderful.It’s so funny how it feels so “selfish” to help another person!

    “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

    ~ Mother Teresa

  5. THIS kind of sharing, giving, supporting +++ is REALLY what Christmas is all about — the essence and action of which is SO appropriate year-round. Thank you for this beautiful story.

  6. The lesson, so clear for me is always about appreciating where we are and how perfect the Universe is in presenting to us the opportunity to leave our self-serving pity party and open our heart to others. Thank you for the most beautiful illustration of this ever so true story…keeping now my eyes and ears open for opportunities when I am out and about is the intention. Much appreciation for your words today, Quinn.

  7. Selfish? Wow. The Inner Critic never lets up, does she! It has to be okay to feel the positive part of a life lesson. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Wonderful story. A reminder that the world is not a friendly place for to many people. Bless you for being an “angel” . Hope she has some resolution of her problems.

  9. You are a beautiful person Quinn! When I’m having a pity party I do try to remind myself that I’m whinning about 1st world problems and I need to visit my gratitude journal. Thank you for sharing your story of loving kindness. No you are not selfish, sometimes we find that helping someone else just helps us more. That’s why we should do more of it.

  10. Bless you! I am very touched and encouraged by your kindness. I am actually sitting in the waiting rm, while my husband is having surgery for cancer; and this is a heartwarming story. We can’t always fix the world, or the whole problem; but a caring heart that acts can have a very long reach

  11. Ah, the Universe delivered a lifesaver to you – I love when we have an opportunity to learn and grow and be bigger people when we don’t know we need it…. Wishing you a warm and loving holiday season, Quinn!

  12. A great story Quinn. It is times like that when you do realize how small your problems are in the grand scheme. There are so many people who have real problems and we tend to forget that. This post made my day.

  13. Thank you for sharing! We need to know greater joy in our lives and I appreciate the way you showed compassion (in having dinner with her and not just giving a handout.). At the risk of “boo hoos” May God bless you and your family this Christmas.

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