Photo by Wesley Carvalho from Pexels

At least once a month, I have to go to an office and drop off some paperwork. It’s not typically the kind of thing I get excited about. Paperwork? Arg, it’s more like make-work, am I right? Grumble, curse, and irritably mumble under my breath. It’s the kind of thing that I put off until the last possible moment and then make a mad dash to get it done. 

Damn it, they close in an hour. Why did you wait so long? What’s wrong with you? I call myself all kinds of names as I work myself up into a tizzy. I grip the steering wheel with white knuckles so I don’t drive like a lunatic. I call other drivers idiots and curse traffic lights. When I get there, I burst through the door and frantically ask, am I too late? Tell me I got here in time.

What’s wrong with me? Why am I like this?

This last year has changed my view on this particular chore just a bit. I still put it off until the last minute, drive like I’m trying out for the Indy 500, and use language that’s not suitable for sensitive ears. I question my sanity and wonder when brain transplants will become a thing because mine doesn’t work. All of that has stayed the same—I don’t think it’ll ever change— but I don’t dread it as much.

After too many hours of isolation, the annoyance has morphed into mild anticipation. I wouldn’t say I eagerly await the deadline or anything so drastic. It’s still paperwork, after all. I haven’t completely misplaced my senses. I don’t look at the calendar and squeal with joy. Hooray, it’s paperwork day!

It’s more like: Oo, I get to do something different. How exciting is that? Mm, it’s not a European getaway, but at least I get to go outside. I can get in my car and drive somewhere, anywhere…I need freedom! If only I could do a passable Scottish accent. Yeah, I’m basically a four-foot, ten-inch cliche.

Oh, but for an hour or two, I get to experience the sweet and glorious stress of venturing out into the world. It’s just me, my socially awkward personality and immunocompromised body versus a virus and humanity. What could go wrong? Why do I naturally assume something will go wrong? There’s something seriously wrong with me, isn’t there.

As shocking as it is, I have to say that it’s nice to get out and see people for a few minutes. Real people with faces covered with masks, standing six feet away. Sure, we had to yell at each other to be heard. We repeated ourselves several times to compensate for the muffled words. It’s a bit of a challenge, but it’s better than a computer screen, a questionable connection, and an over pixelated image.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology and all it’s given us over the last year. I can’t imagine how difficult this would’ve been if we couldn’t connect with family and friends. It’s been a real God-send, but it’s not the same, is it?

It’s one thing to see someone; it’s another thing to feel the energy radiating off of them. Look someone in the eyes, experience their reactions in real-time and not over a fraction of a delay. So much of our interaction is lost or isn’t captured on the screen. Those micro-expressions that subconsciously fill in the gaps just don’t transmit very well.

Technology is brilliant, but nothing can replace the experience of seeing someone in person. Even strangers at an office? At this point, I’ll take what I can get, and I’m grateful for it. Well, let’s be more accurate and call it reluctantly appreciative. Seriously, my social anxiety loves to tickle me in weird places.

The other day, I ran the paperwork over to the office, and this time I didn’t wait until the last minute. Will wonders never cease? Did I actually plan ahead? Don’t get too excited. I’m sure it was just a glitch in the matrix. Once everything settles down, I’ll go back to my old procrastinating ways.

Actually, with everything going on in my personal life, I didn’t want to get caught up in something and forget to do it all together. These are heavy days for me and my loved ones. It’s been a real struggle to get anything done because my mind is focused on one person and not much else.

When someone you love is hurting, and there’s nothing you can do to help? I’m having a hard time thinking about anything at all. But life continues, and my responsibilities are waiting for me. As hard as it is, I’m trying to shake it off, stretch it out, and get it done. 

Once the day is over? Then I’ll curl up into a ball and have a good cry. It will be followed by a nice cup of tea and a good long nap. If you sleep for eighteen hours, is that still considered a nap? Either way, I plan on letting my exhaustion wash over me and drown out the world.

And that plan must’ve shown because as I was walking out, the security guard looked at me and said, “You look tired.” Excuse me? I look what now? Oh no, I didn’t hear him say what I think I heard him say. Isn’t it universally accept that we don’t call strangers tired, haggard, ragged, or a hot mess? That’s a thing, isn’t it? 

Don’t comment on people’s bodies and/or appearance. Just don’t do it, alright.

Then I caught my reflection in the tinted glass door, and I laughed. He wasn’t wrong. I looked dishevelled, there were dark circles under my eyes, and my shoulders looked like they were bearing the weight of a cement mixer. His descriptor was very accurate.

My weary smile was covered by my masked, and I replied, “Yeah, man, there’s been a lot going on. Someone I love is sick. Pandemic rules won’t let us be there for em. I’m feeling…” My voice trailed off because if I kept talking, I would’ve started crying prematurely. Gotta stick to the plan! Go home, cry, have a cup of tea, and then nap for eighteen hours.

He let out a long sigh, and for a second, I worried that I’d overshared. He was just making an offhanded and inappropriate comment. He wasn’t looking for my life story. What was I thinking? I should’ve just ignored him or told him he’d be more handsome if he smiled. You know, something snarky yet passive-aggressive enough to avoid a confrontation.

He shook his head, got off his stool, and tucked his hands in his pockets. “That really sucks,” he said. “It’s hard not being there. Really wears on you, eh. If I could give you a hug, I would ‘cause you look like you need one.”

My guy, you turned it around.

Sure, I should’ve still been offended by the comment. It wasn’t super appropriate, and it’s rarely a good idea to make those kinds of remarks. You never know what’s someone’s dealing with or how close to the edge they are. Some people are barely hanging on, and one more comment might do them in. As a general rule, always choose kindness, and if you can’t be kind, then be quiet.

Just because you think it, doesn’t mean you have to say it. Says the woman putting her thoughts online? Uh… Well…Huh.

Maybe I was too tired to be offended? I’d entered the I don’t give a f**k phase. You could say just about anything to me, and it would fly on by without a second thought. There’s too much going on right now, real-world problems, and what you think of me doesn’t even register. It’s so unimportant that I won’t even acknowledge you at all. I’m too lost in my head, overwhelmed by emotion, and concerned about something that’s more important to me than anything else.

But for some reason, I stopped, took a breath, and told him what was going on. It wasn’t to shame him into an apology, put him in his place (that’s an obnoxious phrase), or anything so dramatic. He was right, I’m tired, and I’m not censoring myself as well as I usually do. My sense of decorum is on vacation, and my overshare valve is cranked wide open.

I cried in public the other day, and that’s not like me. I’m not a crier. Well, I don’t let people see me cry. It makes me feel too vulnerable, and that’s not something I like to be. Or, it’s not something I want anyone to see, but again, he was right. I’m tired, and it’s all spilling out.

That brief moment of vulnerability brought with it a connection to someone else. It gave him a moment to see me beyond my physical mess, and he responded with kindness. Turn that around. It gave me a chance to feel seen, and experience the kindness he had to offer.

It’s amazing how much comfort there is in receive a bit of validation from someone else. I know we’re not supposed to seek external validation and all of that higher living crap. It’s true, I’m sure, but that doesn’t mean it can’t feel good when we get it.

When someone sees you, really sees you, and acknowledges what your going through? You’re going through something difficult right now, and that sucks. It’s hard. It’s exhausting. I see you, and if I could ease the burden, I would. It’s just a simple kindness, but it means a lot when you’re standing on the edge of a long drop.

It’s such a simple thing to do for someone, but it can mean the world to them.

Thank you, sir, for your words and your offer. I’m not much a hugger, especially with strangers, but the sentiment is appreciated. Thank you for choosing kindness. I really needed it.

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