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Dr. Hallowell's Blog

Note from Ned

April 11, 2016

Greetings, as spring approaches and threatens to land. Even though T. S. Eliot said that April is the cruelest month, I take issue with that punctilious poet and say that months dole out cruelty with as little regard for the calendar as for cause. Cruelty seems to be part of every month. But then again, so does bounty, and even goodness.

The cruelty, goodness, absurdity, and humor of everyday, ordinary, nothing-special-happening-now life always intrigues me. Not the BIG ISSUES, but the little, petty, picky issues we (or at least I) encounter and get tangled up in every day.

Take today, for example. I was in a good mood. The sun was out, the streets were clean, as we my teeth (I’d just come from a cleaning at the dentist and was pleased I got a glowing report from the hygienist who usually reprimands me).

On my way to my office I stopped at a convenience store near where I work. I usually go there for coffee, rather than the big chain coffee joint next to it, to give my business to the little guy, as I love little guys (don’t we all?). I poured my medium gingerbread-flavored coffee, added whole milk to it (sorry, my vegan friends, I do do dairy), and went to pay for my beverage. The woman behind the counter rang me up and told me my total was $2.02. All I had on me was a five dollar bill and no change. This is where things took a turn for the, well, you decide.

When I gave the woman behind the counter my five-dollar bill, I asked her if I could owe the store the two cents, so she could give me back three dollar bills, rather than two dollar bills and fistful of change. Implacably, she said, no, she could not do that. I looked down at the basket of change next to the cash register and asked if I could take two pennies (there were many pennies in the basket) from there so she could give me the three dollar bills. She said no, the money in that basket was for tips. I asked her if I promised to replace the two cents in the basket on my next visit (as I said, I am, or was, a regular customer of this small convenience store, and I go in often), could I perhaps raid the tip bin for the two cents I needed. She said no, she could not offer me credit. I asked her if, based on this interaction between herself and me, I decided never to come into this store again, but rather give my business to the big chain store beside this little store, did she think it would still be a wise business decision to lose a regular customer rather than grant a two-cent line of credit. She said yes, she thought that was a good business decision. I asked her if she thought the owner of the store would agree, to which she replied, “I couldn’t tell you. I can’t read minds.”

In this scene, we see how small and petty I can be, the woman behind the counter can be, and how ridiculous life can be. We can also see how life drives me crazy. We can also see how I let it happen, maybe even cause it to happen.

Looking back, what should I have done? My wife would say that I was a fool to ask the woman behind the counter to make an exception, and that I was a double fool for pressing the point. I would tell my wife that as much as my rational mind agrees with her, the small, petty, argumentative Ned could not let it go so easily; that the small, petty, smart-aleck Ned just had to belabor the point, and try to bring the woman behind the counter to her senses, which, of course, she would no more do than part with her right arm, let alone two cents.

What’s the point of this note from Ned, as spring threatens to land and bring us tulips and daffodils galore? I guess that, as much as I always try to look for the tulips and daffodils in life, I am stuck with being human, and a pretty petty, pig-headed human at that.

Maybe that’s why I wrote a whole book about forgiveness. Because I need so much of it myself!

I wish you all tulips and daffodils, and as few arguments over two cents as you can manage to stay out of!

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