This morning I had the rare experience of driving alone to the supermarket to do things at normal speed without any small people in tow.
I was driving along and began to realise how tired I felt and how irritable I was. I sang as loud as I could to some love songs and felt something shift a bit but the feeling remained.
When I arrived in the carpark, I must have been on autopilot because I parked in my usual spot, even though it is one of the spaces reserved for parents with children. I opened the door, gathered my bags and was about to step out when an irate mother with a young child in the back of her car began to let me know just how angry she was with me that I was parking where she should be parking. She pointed angrily and condescendingly at the sign (right in front of my car) that demonstrated her point.
I was so shocked (and, honestly, tired) that I didn't react at all. Instead I just stared at her. But, in that silence - in that non-reactivity - I found two voices in me. One was righteous and defensive. 'How dare you raise your voice at me! How dare you assume I don't have children and that you have it harder than me. Just because you're tired, doesn't mean I'm not too.' I know this voice well and have acted from this place many times, especially when somebody criticises me and I feel the injustice of it.
But this morning the other voice was just as strong, although it felt completely different. This voice said, without any defences, 'I want us to realise we are sisters. I want peace. And I know you do too.'
And so I acted from this place. And I found such a beautiful middle ground. I did not feel disempowered and apologetic, but rather I found the words I needed to bring peace to both of us. In my mind I thanked her for showing me how tired and reactive I was and then, as I approached her so that we could really see each other clearly, I said out loud: 'Do you know, the honest truth is, I'm on auto-pilot. Mainly because I am very tired today. I usually have my two young children with me just like you. Today is a rare day - I have a few moments to myself while my husband is in charge. And I'm so sorry you felt that I cut into this space before you - and I appreciate that you probably think I shouldn't be parking here without children. I am so happy to move my car so that you can be closer to the doors if that would make your day easier. From one tired mum to another, I would just ask you to understand that I wasn't doing it out of spite and I wasn't being careless in the way you might have thought.'
Her shoulders dropped and, just for a moment, we really saw each other and she let her defences down too. In that brief meeting of our eyes, we were sisters.
'Do you know, I can actually see a space just in the next row,' she said. And then added, 'And I'm sorry I got so angry. I think I must be tired and hadn't realised.'
And I felt such peace. And not just that, I actually realised deep in my being that this is what a miracle is. These small moments, in the carparks of supermarkets, in the post office, in our homes, when we can choose to surrender to another, see them as our sister or brother, and welcome in what they are bringing us.
Because defensiveness just takes everyone away from themselves and into territory that nobody is choosing.
And surrendered quietness and understanding - and treating ourselves and others with compassion and a genuine wonder for how their day is going or what else might be making them so tense - takes us in a direction towards love and peace and sisterhood and brotherhood. When we are defenceless, we actually meet the safety of the Love that holds us - the Love that sees us and everyone in our wholeness and doing-our-best-ness. This is what the line from A Course in Miracles means to me.
So the next time you are attacked, see what happens if you just let it be what it is without defending your position. It doesn't mean beating yourself up or apologising in a disempowered way. It just means joining rather than separating. Understanding rather than judging. Wondering about their story rather than making assumptions. And not taking it too personally.
All this can happen if you choose the voice for love in that moment as you take a breath. And I do not say this lightly - I know the other way of reacting very well. And if I can do it in that moment, you can too.
Oh the things I learn in the supermarket....