When it comes to living with a disease there are two kinds of scenarios that usually play out in public: 1) the person with the illness encounters a stranger who treats them with a random act of kindness that brightens their day or even their life and 2) the random stranger does something unkind that makes the sick person feel worse about their life, fueling their desire to go out and seek justice or simply hide in a hole. What happened to me was a whole other scenario.
In October 2007, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), an incurable and potentially disabling disease. To say I was devastated would be an understatement. To tell you that I spent months walled up in my apartment watching real-life medical dramas unfold on TLC while drifting in and out of a depression-filled slumber would be the absolute truth. By the time Christmas rolled around that year, I was ready for some normalcy, so I decided to throw a pre-holiday dinner for some friends.
To prepare for the dinner, I went to Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica, California, to pick up some of their famous bread and a few appetizers. I usually avoid this deli on weekends and during peak lunch hours, as the small parking lot only holds 20 or so cars and tends to turn into a madhouse. But it was late on a Friday afternoon, and I figured it wouldn’t be so bad. What I failed to take into account was the fact that this was the holiday season, and I probably wasn’t the only one hosting a festive dinner.
When I finally pulled off the street and into the lot, the parking attendant motioned for me to drive forward and wait for a spot ahead. I did as he said then patiently waited for my turn to park.
Unfortunately, the woman behind me missed the memo on patience and had it in her mind that this waiting thing was completely below her. She rolled down her window and screamed out, “What the hell are you doing? Move it!”
I looked back at her with a smile and politely motioned that I was waiting for the next spot to open. This was obviously not the kind of response she wanted from me, because she immediately swerved around to the side of my Jeep, hit the gas and started screaming obscenities at me as she raced into one of the two hidden spots behind the deli that had just opened and I had failed to notice.
“Are you an idiot? Why the hell would you wait there?!” she continued to scream as she got out of her parked car and I pulled into the other spot, which was right next to hers. I stayed inside my car and rolled down the window a few inches as she continued to tell me how ridiculous I was for waiting and how pissed she was that I had held her up. My only retort was, “It’s the holidays, be nice.”
She responded with another dirty look and screamed, “Bitch!” Then she slammed her car door and headed inside the store.
Before I could come up with a smart response, all the stress of the MS came crashing down around me. Pair that with the woman’s hostility, and my eyes burst into an immediate hailstorm of tears. My body began shaking, and I went into full uncontrollable sobbing mode.
After five minutes, I managed to calm myself down and pull it together to shop. Inside the deli, I grabbed a couple loaves of bread and some fancy cheese and was headed for the sandwich area when I spotted the lady from parking lot. She glared at me, and my hands immediately clenched. My bottom lip started to tremble.
Don’t cry. Don’t cry. I told myself over and over.
I couldn’t let this woman see me fall apart. I took my stuff and headed for the cash register. As I left the store, I thought I would break down again, but something strange happened. An extreme feeling of strength came over me.
After all the medical sh** I’d been dealing with, this lady’s rudeness didn’t even compare, so instead of getting into my car and racing out of the parking lot, I grabbed a scrap piece of paper from my backseat and started to write.
Next time you decide to use unkind words, please think twice and understand that you may not know someone’s life situation. I was recently diagnosed with MS and am still in shock from the news. Please know that while I held back my tears, I said a silent prayer wishing you and your family all the love and joy in the world during this holiday season!!!
I read it over several times to ensure the passive-aggressive message was clear, then I got out of my car, placed the note on the woman’s windshield and left the parking lot with my hands still shaking.
It has been eight years since that day. I have been through countless MRIs and a variety of other tests, but the amount of damage MS has done to my body in that time is negligible. I consider myself lucky. But I still wonder what happened to the woman in the parking lot. I wonder how my words affected her, and I wonder if I may have been the unkind stranger.
If there is anything that living with MS has taught me, it’s that we are all fighting unseen battles. For all I know that woman could’ve just lost her mother, and I was on the receiving end of the hate she felt for the unfairness of death. I believe in the good in people, and I know I never would’ve written that note had I not been dealing with disease. Deep down I believe this woman didn’t mean to be unkind. I believe we only act out of malice or hate because our own lives are chaotic or broken. Adding to that pain by leaving my passive-aggressive note solved no one’s problems.