A complete stranger read me the riot act the other day. I blame the system. Here's how it went down...
I got to my favorite java haunt about 10:30 on a Saturday morning and the place was packed. There were two lines forming, one for seating for table service and one for the counter. I waited for the counter and ordered my typical coffee and muffin "for here," as I usually do, and waited for a seat. When one opened up, I sat down with my morning delicacies and proceeded to munch.
About 3 minutes later a woman, a complete stranger, came up to my table. "I saw what you did and you should be ashamed."
"I've been waiting in line for 20 minutes and you just sat down."
"Ma'am, I waited in line too. There are two lines you know."
"And you decided you could jump in front of us."
"Look, I bought my coffee and muffin and I deserve a seat just like any other customer here. What do you propose? That I buy my stuff and wait in line again for a seat?"
"Well, I think what you did was extremely rude."
"I'm sorry you feel that way."
"I do." And then she left.
My face burned with embarrassment and anger and I sat and thought about it, turning her words over in my head. Was I wrong? Did I screw up? I didn't think so, but I had clearly upset her and I tried to put myself in her place.
Then I realized that, really, the fault lay with a system that made us competitors for resources in such a way that neither of us would be winners. The coffee house, accustomed to an easy-going atmosphere with plenty of space for everyone wasn't prepared for seating to be an issue. This was aggravated by the fact that it was raining which effectively eliminated all of their outdoor seating. Typically there is room for everyone and it probably never occurred to them that they might have to regulate access to space.
After realizing this I talked with the management and suggested that, in the future, they may want to make the counter carry-out only at peak hours to avoid these sort of things. It would put a crimp in my style, but it would be clear and fair.
Then I started thinking about all of the systems that we are in that set us up to be competitors and adversaries in senseless ways...
September 19 be International Talk Like a Pirate Day and here be an instructional video fer ye land lubbers who don't be knowing how ta talk like a pirate. Yarrrrr!
Of all the painful memories of this day five years ago the most painful is the one where I tell my then 6 year old daughter what happened. "Planes flew into buildings in New York and a lot of people died."
"But it was an accident, right?"
Forever after that moment my daughter has lived in a world where people fly planes into buildings on purpose.
Many people lost a lot on September 11, 2001. What my daughter lost was innocence. And while that may seem a small thing, I mourn it still.
Some thoughts on September 11, 2001 five years later from a Brooklyner...
That pretty much sums it up for me. Thanks, Ze, for saying it so I don't have to.