“The best way to avenge yourself is to not be like that.” -Marcus Aurelius
After a rather lengthy period of illness in our household, we are officially all out of isolation. Whether or not we’re still contagious is debatable. We continue to follow the CDC guidelines as we have since the pandemic began. We wear masks when we’re out in public. Masks are still required in our son’s school as our district is currently experiencing an outbreak of Covid.
In two years, I’ve never had anyone say anything negative about my mask wearing. Until today. After picking our son up from school we decided to stop at a local grocery store that historically I have hated. The food snob comes out in me in full force whenever I’m forced to shop there. The lack of organic and vegetarian options is mindboggling. We decided to stop because my son asked for vegetarian hotdogs for dinner and I figured I could tough it out long enough to check if they had one single item.
We walked at a brisk pace straight for the hot dog aisle. My son was excited to be out in public and dutifully pulled up his surgical mask that kept sliding down off his nose. We were on a mission. Within a few minutes it was clear they did not have the brand we’re accustomed to, so we wandered around for a moment looking for other options. We settled on corn dogs. Then my son saw his favorite cookies and started the systematic breakdown of my parental will power as kids do.
That’s when it happened. A man who was probably around my age started staring at me and turned around to come towards me. I figured I knew him, so I smiled, which of course is pointless with a mask on. Then he started swearing at me and yelling about me wearing a mask. My son missed this interaction because of his laser focus on the cookies.
Over the years, I’ve worked very hard on controlling my rage. The first few years after my trauma, I’d get in fights with anyone that crossed paths with me. I reveled in it. I trained for it. I looked for it. Old me would have escalated the situation the moment the first swear word was hurdled my way. Please don’t misunderstand me, I’ve never been a good fighter but what I lacked for in ability I made up for with unbridled rage.
The angry person I once was died a long time ago. I have no rage left in me. I got my son the cookies. And graham crackers. And the hot dog buns that we no longer needed. I told him it was time to go, and he listened. The man continued to swear towards me and was on the phone talking very loudly about me and my mask. I feared he was following us.
We walked to the help desk, and I asked to check out there. The lady behind the counter obliged and checked us out. The man fell back. We left the store quickly and got into our car and I locked the doors. We were safe. I told my son that if there is any chance to avoid a conflict to always take it. He had no idea what I was talking about. I asked if he heard the man yelling at me and he said no and then asked if he could eat a cookie. My son had no idea what happened.
On the drive home I tried to explain to my four-year-old son why a random man in a store felt it was his duty to harass us because we were wearing masks. I didn’t have a good answer. As we drove, I felt relief and then anger. I thought about how this is a small community and that I could find out this man’s identity. I could call him out on social media and berate him for his behavior. I could be calculating and impact his business or job and erode people’s trust in him.
Thankfully, I was able to stop the mental train to resentment town and collect my thoughts. By the time I got home my anger started to dissolve. This random angry man does not deserve my thoughts.
Today, I will remember that sometimes the only cure for anger is delay. And that indifference is the only suitable response when confronted by such foolishness as we encountered in the store. The fact that this situation made its way into my writing means I still have work to do but that I’ve made progress.