If someone were to pay you ten cents for every kind word you said about people and collect five cents for every unkind word, would you be rich or poor? ~ Author unknown, quoted by Jacob M. Braude
I can’t stand bullying and mean behavior. I witnessed it when my boys were in elementary school: they would come home and complain about such-and-such talking down to them or saying cruel things, trying to intimidate or make them feel inadequate. It was painful to watch but eventually – through many tears and lots of encouragement – they developed their confidence and the ability to stand up for themselves once they reached middle school.
I thought the meanness and passive-aggressive behavior was long behind us, but I was wrong. Last week, when I was going through my Dad’s paperwork I came across a receipt that had a message scrawled out in black ink pen:
“You park like a f*c%ing idiot Kill yourself.”
Shock rose from within, the language was harsh. I seethed as the judgment followed: whoever wrote the message neglected to use proper punctuation. My hands trembled a bit as I held the piece of paper in my hand.
“Where did this come from?” I asked my Dad. The writing was not my in my Dad’s shaky, handwriting, instead, it was written all in caps, and it appeared there had been a lot of pressure applied to the paper when it was written. Whoever had written it wasn’t happy.
“It was on my windshield” was all he said and then continued to read through his mail.
I flipped the receipt over: It was a receipt from McDonald’s for a Big Mac Meal and a McChicken sandwich.
“Did you eat at McDonald’s?” I asked him.
“Just curious” I replied.
I looked at the date on the receipt, there was a Visa Authorization number on it; the last four numbers of the card listed on the receipt did not belong to my Dad.
I didn’t bother reading those words on the back of the receipt to my Dad, nor did I ask any further questions, instead, I picked it up along with the bills and trust paperwork I handle for my Dad and took it home.
I had forgotten about it until a few days later while I was getting ready to pay bills. The slip of paper fluttered out of the stack and dropped onto my desk. The words stung.
I held the note in my hands, wondering if my Dad had read it. I hoped he hadn’t. My mind was a mixture of emotions – disappointment, anger, shame, and defeat.
My Dad is 81 years old; he has been driving for over 65 years and due to his age, it is possible that he didn’t park perfectly between the two white lines in the parking lot. If that was the case, his sloppy parking upset whoever the Big Mac/McChicken sandwich person and prevented them from parking the car or perhaps getting in and out of the car.
The person who wrote the note was annoyed enough to take the time to dig up a receipt and scratch out a note using cruel words. I had a hard time getting past “f*c%ing idiot” and “Kill yourself” – my Dad, in his younger years, was respected for his intelligence as loved for his kindness.
The person who wrote the note had no idea that my 81-year old father is a widow, who misses his wife each morning when he wakes up alone each morning. The note reminded me that my Dad is lonely.
The person who wrote the note had only seen the obvious: someone who parked in a manner that made it difficult for them to park. The note reminded me that the day I will have to take his car keys away is approaching quickly.
The person who wrote the note had no idea that the person on whose windshield he or she was leaving a nasty note would give the shirt off his back or the last dollar in his wallet to someone in need. The note reminded me that my Dad, despite his not-so-favorable parking skills, always has good intentions.
In this situation, my Dad didn’t need me to coach him through tears and encouragement, instead, I needed to coach myself through my own tears, accepting the fact that he is aging and he is vulnerable. I needed to coach and encourage myself to keep doing the things I do for my Dad and spending time with him. I hate the way situations like this remind me of how each day he slows down a little bit more.
My Dad is rich due to his kind words and generous heart, showing him the note would accomplish nothing but feel sorry for the person who wrote it.
I put the note in the shredder, I didn’t want that negative currency in the piggy bank of my life or his. Kindness matters.