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  • Marie Trout

Attitude Adjustment Delivered By The Flu

How having the flu opened my eyes.

Emerging from a stupor of flu-caused bedridden isolation in my bedroom, I walk into our local coffee shop for my morning cup of joe. This is the first time I venture outside for days, and I feel hyper sensitive.

It is almost as if being sick was a small death. And now, having beaten back the worst parts of the disease, I am re-born into the world.

I feel like Bambi on ice: wobbly, wide-eyed, and bewildered.

My mind is still unable to accurately process what is going on around me: I look at the other inhabitants of this early morning landscape with wonder:

“There are actually PEOPLE here…whoa!“

I am a newborn in a 53 year-old woman’s body. But of course nobody knows. They see the same, fairly capable, somewhat insistent, mostly kind person they always see.

When it is my turn, I watch—as if in a daze— as the young barista behind the counter rings up my morning drink without me even having to order it.

I am a regular there, and so she must have memorized my typical drink order.

I silently pay for the coffee with a sheepish look on my face. I mumble a faint: “thank you,” and realize that my words probably never made it out of the immense amount of knitted fabric around the lower part of my face. Oh well….

A few moments later, it seems that my drink is ready. I watch the staff gesture to me from behind the counter.

They are pointing to a gigantic cup sitting there with my name misspelled on it.

I wobble to the counter and point out that this drink might be a wonderful contraption for a weight-lifting séance, but utterly inappropriate for my relaxed morning ritual. I normally get a beverage for one, not one for four…

The staff speaks at me with words that come out like machine gun fire.

They let me know – I think – that I can get a refund and keep the drink. I look at the line, which is now immense and think how getting back in line would probably mean having a coughing spell in public, which I had avoided up until this point.

And something unusual happen: words fail me.

I watch the staff get irritated, and I hear subtle sighing from the other patrons behind me.

The normal me would just muscle my way up to the counter and ask for my refund – but today I cannot muster this kind of assertiveness. I stand there with scarves around my neck and my head wrapped in cloth stovepipes, and feel like I am going to cry.

Thankfully a sweet, young man emerges from behind the counter, and he reaches over and whispers to my swollen face:

“Next time you come in; I will just give you your normal drink on us. That is much easier all around.”

I look at him with thankfulness at his ability to circumvent procedure and rules, and just reach out from one human being to another.

And as I walk out balancing a drink that size-wise resembles a major-league football trophy, I am reminded that I am not ready for the world just yet.

And then it dawns on me how rough this world must be if you are older, have decreased hearing, don’t speak the language well, or are otherwise unable, for whatever reason, to process the rapid-fire speed with which our world operates.

How you must tire—or feel cloaked in shame—from the looks of impatience, the insistent gestures, and the rolled eyes you meet. How the words coming at you sound almost like a foreign language, even if it isn’t.

How you just feel hopeless, pathetic, and alone. And the more stressed you feel, the more your brain seems to short-circuit. That was what happened to me this morning.

And the experience gave me a reminder of how important it is to be patient and kind.

When in the past I have been in line behind someone needing extra hand-holding or long explanations – of what I deem to be self-explanatory – I have been an impatient, eye-rolling, watch-gawking asshole myself.

My body language then told both the person behind the counter, as well as the person in need of assistance, that they were annoying me.

And it must have added stress, quite unnecessarily, to the situation. It never changed the speed with which I got service – but it certainly affected everyone.

Next time, I hope to smile at the cashier trying to explain to someone how a deposit slip works. I intend to take the irritation that I feel and send it, via this morning’s Bambi experience, to my heart for transformation.

I will remind myself to be grateful that someone is kind enough to take the time to explain things kindly to another human being.

My flu-induced experience this morning reminds me that irritation and stress do not speed anything up. Instead kindness and grace are like grease on the squeaky wheels of co-existence.

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