I haven’t stepped foot in to a dry cleaners in years. No, it’s not only because ever since becoming a mom, I don’t wear anything that can’t be washed clean with baby wipes (which is the case most days). The real impetus for this dry-cleaner boycott began almost six years ago in Dallas.
In April of 2006, my beautiful and vibrant 33 year-old cousin, Lindsey, two weeks shy of her due date with her first child, collapsed of a fatal brain aneurysm. I dropped everything and flew down to Dallas to help her young widow, Chad, pick up the pieces, plan a funeral and bring home a healthy newborn son from the hospital. Part of my responsibilities that week included accompanying Chad to the dry cleaners to pick up some of Lindsey’s clothes. When we walked into the dry cleaners, the woman behind the counter lit up when she saw Chad, sure that he would be coming with news of the birth of their child. Instead, he gravely explained to this woman what had happened. I was shocked by her reaction. She collapsed to her knees sobbing. The dry cleaner. Sobbing.
As we walked away moments later, it hit me like a truck. This woman, who barely spoke English and must see hundreds of people come in and out of her shop each week, was so devastated by the news of Lindsey’s death – and I believe it was not solely because it was such a horribly tragic story. If you knew Lindsey, you would understand.
It was obvious to me that my cousin made such an impact on this woman in just a few minutes a week, sharing with the dry cleaner the same sense of joy, excitement, curiosity and kindness that she shared with her family and friends. Lindsey had left such a positive and indelible mark on this woman’s life through those brief, simple encounters, and it made me pause. Do I bring a sense of kindness, respect, curiosity and joy to each encounter I have throughout my day? Do I treat everyone the same or does it depend on who that person is to me? Am I saving my “best” just for those special people in my life?
Take the car, for example. I was born and raised in Massachusetts. I’m what’s called a “Masshole” – I KNOW how to drive, but no one else on the road does, of course. These days, when I’m ready to flip the bird, or roll down my window to give the other drivers a piece of my mind, I pause. What if I knew that person? What if I flipped someone off, only to pull up next to them five minutes later in the parking lot of my daughter’s school? Wouldn’t that be awkward!?
And yesterday, I walked into Walgreens and ran into an acquaintance of mine who was in line at the register. Behind my friend, there was a young mentally-challenged man who started talking to me, though I was having a difficult time making out what he was saying. For a moment I thought perhaps they were brothers, so I did my best to understand what he was trying to tell me and gave him my attention. Normally I would probably smile and “politely ignore” that person, but because I don’t know this acquaintance very well, I gave the young man my attention. Was it really only because I thought they might be brothers? Why wouldn’t I otherwise just give that stranger my “best?”
I don’t expect to change overnight, and I certainly don’t expect to give every random person I encounter throughout the day my utmost and undivided attention, but just for today, I will ask myself, “What if I knew that person? What if that woman’s son went to my daughter’s school? What if that homeless person was related to me or someone I know and care about?” Just for today, can I try to give that stranger “my best?”
Annie Murphy lives in Mill Valley, CA with her husband, Taylor, and daughter, Ava.