Remember when you were a teenager and you watched your parents or grandparents freak out over something that seemed relatively minor to you? For example, when I was 16, my grandmother went shopping with me at a local department store. As we entered the Juniors department, the jazzy, soothing muzak that the store piped in over the speakers became this jarring, slightly heavy-metal-type rock and roll. Almost immediately, my grandmother's lips formed a tight, thin line through which I heard something like, "Pick out your damn pants and let's get out of this screaming nightmare.". I remember thinking, "Geez, it's not that loud. Why is she so bothered by a little noisy music?". (Also, I may have rolled my eyes when her back was turned, by I can neither confirm or deny that.)
It was always the "little things" like that incident, that convinced me that my grandmother or one of my parents was overly impatient and intolerant. A waitress that took too long to bring our meal to the table. An argument between me and one of my siblings. The phone ringing for the 17th time during dinner. All of these things could potentially yield a very cranky comment and/or look from my "elders". What was the big stinking deal, people? Chill out. I would never react that way. Ne.Ver.
A couple of months ago, as I shopped in a local department store for my son's 1st Communion suit, I realized I was becoming more and more agitated with each minute that passed. The store was ridiculously crowded (think street fair in some third world nation crowded), the racks of clothes were all out of order, price tags were missing, there was absolutely no pants in a size 7. As my husband touched my shoulder to let me know that he was taking the baby and our son to a less crowded part of the store, I jumped about 12 feet in the air and snapped, "WHAT?!". Another proud moment to add to my memoirs. I tried to calm down but I felt like I could have been confused with one of the meth addicts on Intervention: jumpy, twitchy, cranky, and wild-eyed. What in the name of all that is holy was making me act this way?
In a word: AGE.
Is there some invisible "age line" that we cross that turns us from a laid-back hipster into the old lady who sits on her front porch screaming at the neighborhood kids to get off her lawn? Maybe, but I don't think so.
I believe that, like fine wine, it happens gradually and within certain environmental conditions.
Over the years of my adulthood, I have watched as minutes, days, and months have been taken away from me just because I have spent the time waiting on hold or arguing with sassy customer service people. For the past almost-16 years, I have been daily subjected to the sights, sounds, and smells of a cheap zoo in China, while never having to leave my own home. I have stood by while an apple that cost me $2.99/lb was thrown in the garbage with one bite taken out of it because it displeased a finicky 2-year-old. I have asked God to hold back my hand during Mass so I would not use it to smack my bratty 4-year-old who was stage-whispering, "I hate Jesus" over and over again.
Yes, the spirit and will that my own parents worked so hard to preserve and protect in me has been worn down and hopelessly broken over the years. Let's pause for a moment of silence for My Spirit...
Does that mean I am now an nearly-empty, bitter shell? Lordy, I sure hope not!
I realized that my character has been burnished to a fine shine. I have learned to not take less than is owed to me (or my family). I have learned that tolerance has a time and place and should be used with compassion, but not squandered in foolishness. I have learned that my days are numbered and I should spend them usefully --- OK, maybe I am still learning this one.
When I look at my parents (and, my grandparents, when they were alive), I realize how much I truly enjoy their characters, how much I still learn from them as people, not just as "Mom" and "Dad". I see that they have learned how to treat people well, while still commanding respect for themselves. I see that, even in their persnickety moments, they look for Christ in others (but NOT in loud, offensive music). I see that I, too, must learn to "use my crankiness wisely.".
Now, I am just waiting to see how my children will learn. And, look for the signs of senility in their mother.