On a recent morning heading to work, I had an interesting moment with a fellow human. At the time, it was simple a moment I felt good about, later it became very important. Here’s The Parable of The Small Boy Waiting.

I walked into a crowded Starbucks on my way to work. I just wanted more coffee, and better coffee than the stale jet fuel served up in the break area at work, honestly. Waiting in the line of irritated commuters would be worth it, enough to make the slight detour – seriously, the coffee at work is quite terrible. I ordered my coffee and stood to the side to wait along with many other commuters standing to the side to wait for their better-than-the-swill-at-the-office coffees. At the edge of the throng of adults, mostly devotedly dedicated to quality time with their personal devices, I notice a small boy, waiting in a chair. His arms are folded tightly, his face has a grim, tense, possibly angry expression, he is sitting very still, as if by some unwitnessed force; he looked like he was having a shit day. I felt uncomfortable. I felt distressed. I wanted, somehow, to help. “Not your place.” My brain said. “Not your kid.” My brain said that, too. “You don’t know that there’s really anything at all wrong” my brain observed, and I struggled with myself – was there ‘something to do’ at all? Small boys also have bad days… fuck, life is hard for me sometimes – and I’m mostly pretty grown up…still…I don’t exactly feel ’empowered’ all the time, and I don’t always feel like I really have an edge just from being older…how much harder might life feel some days for a small boy?

He caught me watching him. Eye contact can be a very connected thing. Too late to ignore him without being a dick – so I spoke up, conversationally (I have no children, and don’t speak even a word of fluent ‘parent’, honestly, and interact with children rather as though they are small adults).  “Rough morning?” I said gently. He looked at me speculatively before answering in a low, reluctant voice “everything always sucks”. His tense face took on an angrier look, and he looked away, and down, still holding himself tightly. I look around, spot the utterly ordinary man who appears to be his dad, waiting at the counter with a sister-aged young girl. “Move long” says my brain, “nothing to see here.”  Instead I say to the small boy “That sounds like a lot to endure.” He looks up, curiosity overcoming his tension, and replies “I don’t know what that word means.” I smile at him, “To endure things means to have to deal with more than you think you can, and be able to because you are stronger than you realize.” He considers that thoughtfully for a moment, and sighs. I see a hint that tears may be lurking, waiting to fall, certainly an uncomfortable feeling in a public place. “I know another good word…” He waits, then asks “What is it?” “Mindfulness” I reply with a smile. “What does that mean?” he asks.

How much do I share about mindfulness with a small boy waiting in a Starbucks on a busy morning? What do I have to offer, really, that could help? Anything? My thoughts flip through all my own experiences on this complicated journey…what helped the most? I can only do my best – but he’s human, too, and clearly suffering…isn’t there always time for a kind word? “Mindfulness,” I begin “is taking a deep breath and being right here, right now – just that. It helps you find a moment that doesn’t suck so much, so you can rest, and be okay for when things might suck again.” He looked almost hopeful, hesitant, he glanced over at his dad before asking me “Does that work?” “Well…you can Google it, there’s lots to read about it…and…right now doesn’t really suck, does it? I mean…you’re okay, right now, yeah?” I smiled at him. He smiled back. “Yeah,” he admitted shyly “I’m getting hot chocolate with my Dad.” I smiled, again, and added “I like hot chocolate best when I can take a deep breath and really enjoy it – the taste and smell, and how it feels in my mouth.” The small boy grinned at me “But not on your shirt, though!” We laughed together. His shoulders relaxed and his arms unfolded. He began to swing his feet with the eager energy of childhood. My coffee was ready, and I went on with my day, after wishing him well.

It was just a conversation with a small boy, really. I smiled on the way to the office, because it felt good to be kind to someone having a difficult time. As I said…it mattered later.

Later eventually came, unexpectedly. I was at my desk at the time. Working. The phone rang – my cell phone. That’s odd during the work day, and odder still it was an out-of-state number that was not a toll-free number of some kind, and wasn’t a number my phone recognized. I answered the phone, and hearing the voice on the other end, my heart dropped. Utterly unexpectedly, without warning, my violent first husband phoned me. My alarms bells went off, my PTSD flared up, I sat trembling, hands sweating, barely able to speak – on the edge of panic. Why was he calling me? (Doesn’t matter.) How did he get this number? (Doesn’t matter.) Is he here? (Highly unlikely.) Does he know where I am? (Come on, now, how hard is that in the digital age? You moved – it’s not witness protection.) I fought down my terror, and kept the call short, polite, and ensured that I was firm and clear about my boundary, specifically stating that I do not want any contact with him. The call ended. The tears began. I shook for some time, helplessly taken over by my fears, and my symptoms.

I remembered the small boy, waiting. “You’re okay, right now, though, right?” I asked myself. I took a breath. I alerted my traveling partner of the distressing call – it felt safer to share, and to know that someone who loves me was aware I was in distress, and potentially ‘at risk’. I posted an observation that I had received a call from my ex to Facebook; the out pouring of support from friends who never met my ex, as well as the support and concern, of those who had, lifted me up and reassured me that I was not alone. I took a couple deep breaths, and showed myself compassion; the symptoms of my PTSD, themselves, are not pleasant to endure…but I am able to endure them. I’m stronger than I realize. More than once, I smile thinking about my conversation with the small boy…and how amazing life’s coincidences can be, when I slow down to experience them.

I am indeed okay right now. I was okay after I got home, no tantrum driven by panic, no weird behavior driven by fear – I mean, other than yes, actually checking under the bed and in my closets ‘for monsters’. My sleep was a bit disturbed, and falling asleep was harder; these are common experiences when my PTSD is triggered. By morning, though, I woke feeling myself. This morning, too…and yesterday’s busy workday was productive and in no way disrupted by the experience of the phone call the day before. This is all progress.

There are going to be days that are hard. There are going to be days when I come face to face with my fears, or feel the weight of my baggage more than others. I handle it better these days…but some day there may be time when I don’t handle things so well, or so easily. Kindness really matters. It matters when it is our friends, it matters from strangers. I keep practicing.

I will, thanks. :-)

I will, thanks. 🙂