"How dare you allow your child to cry like that, and how dare you come sit at the table next to me!!!" This was the message I got as the lady stared at me with a big frown on her face.
I was out with my two kids a few days ago, and went to a food court cafe for a quick lunch. Pushing a pram with a crying baby with one hand and holding a toddler with the other, I was shown to a table by the wait staff. There were two elderly ladies on the adjacent table, so I apologized for the crying as I was fiddling with placing my toddler in the highchair. One lady just smiled, but the other gave me a very angry, disapproving look.
I was shocked. Here I was being courteous, and there was someone who didn't seem to understand the fact that I only had two hands. Furious, I asked to be moved to another table, stating that I thought I was disturbing other guests. And so we moved.
All was well outwardly, but my mind would not stop spinning. I was still furious at the lady's stare, and was thinking of whinging on Facebook (oh dear! How FB is really dominating our lives! But that's a topic for another day...), and how I would respond if she said anything to me about my crying baby. I kept glancing back to see if the lady was still giving me any more disapproving looks, but being short-sighted and inflexible with my neck muscles (after all, I'm not an owl) I couldn't really see much. I prayed that God would help me forgive and not think anymore of it, but during the whole 20 minutes, I just could not let the incident go. In the end I decided that before we left the cafe, I'd go over to the two ladies again. Not to retaliate with words, although that thought did cross my mind more than once, but to apologize again for disturbing them before. And that's exactly what I did.
I expected to be greeted with a frown again and was getting ready with a comeback (I never learn huh!), but the result was totally beyond my expectations. The lady actually responded, not exactly with a smile but still quite nicely, "Oh you were alright, it's just that I had a terrible experience at the mall yesterday!" "Oh, what happened?" I enquired, curious. The lady went on to explain how she encountered a kid who was screaming non-stop, but his mum actually thought him funny and did nothing to stop him for the whole time she was there. When she saw me and the crying baby, she automatically thought, "Oh no, not again!!!", and thus she looked so angry and unhappy.
We parted on friendly terms, and my daughter even got a smile out of the lady. I left the cafe feeling very different than I would otherwise have felt if I hadn't gone to speak with the ladies. It didn't take long to say sorry, but doing so saved me from an unwarranted period of frustration (I admit I tend to overreact). It could have gone the other way, I suppose, if the lady responded differently, but I felt it was worth resolving the issue even if it were just for my own peace of mind.
This incident was not life changing on any terms, but it led me to contemplate on how we can often jump to conclusions too quickly. When we see a mother with a toddler throwing a tantrum in the supermarket isle, do we automatically assume the kid is 'naughty' and not disciplined? When we encounter a grumpy person on the bus, do we automatically judge the person in disapproval? Behind every face there is a story, and while it would be impossible to spend time with every individual and hear their stories, the world may just be that little more empathetic if we were willing to look beyond the surface even just for a few minutes...