To the retirement-aged, wheelchair-bound woman in the Westfield shopping centre carpark whom I today told to go die:
I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that, and I feel terrible. No doubt I left you feeling angry, unsettled, generally unpleasant – something I’m sure you didn’t need for your afternoon out with your daughter and grandchildren.
I’ve been thinking back over it all day. No matter which way I look at it, I was in the wrong. I approached you because I was feeling highly indignant: you were smoking in a clearly signed “no smoking” zone in the undercover car park, and I am sensitive to airborne chemicals. I debated it for a couple of minutes as I pulled out the pram, the nappy bag, and finally, my baby. I knew there was no way to tell you without it causing a bad reaction, yet it rattled me to my core; why should you be able to impinge on others’ rights to breathe (relatively) clean air, in direct defiance of the law? Then I saw your daughter take out a cigarette – her own kids safely in the car – and as I passed with my bub and her delicate little lungs, I bolstered the confidence to speak up.
You misheard me at first, so I repeated, “There’s no smoking in the undercover area.” Your daughter joined you in a sputtering of retorts. You were saying “you just go do your thing” and your daughter asked me where I expected you both to go. Why couldn’t you just wait five minutes until you were outside, I asked? Your daughter gestured to the car, incredulous: “I can’t smoke in the car, I’ve got young children in there.” “I’ve got a young child in the car park,” I retorted, appalled that what she deemed inappropriate for her own children was somehow fine for my own baby. I’d made my point, though, so I began to move away.
That’s when you called out, “bloody young people these days!” And I’m ashamed to say that I took the bait. I felt offended: how dare you turn this back on me? You were doing something illegal, and highly inconsiderate. What youth problem did you suppose you were identifying? And here was you, supposedly older and wiser, acting like a rebellious teenager. “Bloody old folk!” I don’t even say ‘folk’ but there it was. And I thought (naively, perhaps) that that was the end of it.
That’s when you yelled your final bit (or at least the last of what I heard). “Why don’t you grow up?” And without thinking I spun around and yelled back, “why don’t you go die?”
I didn’t mean it like that. As the words came out of my mouth, I meant them in kind – an ageist comment served in return for another. I don’t have any desire that you should die, and it was a truly awful thing to say. No matter how angry I was, I shouldn’t have said that.
And the more I thought about it, the more I realised I really shouldn’t have said anything at all. I knew it wouldn’t go down well, or achieve anything positive. I wanted to relieve my irritation by making it known. I wanted you to know that you were doing the wrong thing, and it was affecting someone else. A better action may have been to walk on the other side of the road, and write a letter to the centre management regarding my concerns over people ignoring the no-smoking signs. I didn’t need to confront you personally. Although I didn’t yell or swear, I was terse, expecting a bad reaction, and thus I guaranteed it.
I hope I didn’t ruffle your feathers too much, and you were able to enjoy the rest of your day. But more than that. I took some time to pray for you, and whatever problems or hardships you might be facing in life. I don’t just want to undo the damage I caused; I want to turn this ugly incident into a catalyst for heartfelt prayer for someone I don’t know and otherwise would never have thought to pray for.
With my humble apologies, I offer you a blessing: may your days be filled with laughter and joy, and the best that life and love have to offer. May God turn his face to shine upon you, and may you know Him as I do: Friend, Saviour, Healer and Comforter.
From the heart,