Often during errand running, it was a relief to Kathy and a pleasure for me to take my son, Caleb, with me. One particular day he accompanied me to the base hospital pharmacy to pick up his digoxin. As we stood in line, an elderly gentleman in front of us noticed my cute two-year-old standing next to me and turned around to say hello. “Well, hello, young Fella. How are you? I see you’ve been eating a sucker. It was a grape sucker wasn’t it? Was it good?”
In a decidedly less than patient tone, I replied, “No, Sir, he hasn’t had a sucker. That’s just his lip’s natural color.”
With incredulity, the white-haired gentleman intoned, “Well, of course he’s had a grape sucker; his lips are purple.”
“No! He hasn’t had a sucker. So if you must know, that purple color is normal for him. He has a heart condition and we’re in line to pick up digoxin, one of his heart medications.” The look of terror on the kindly gentleman’s face was telling. He promptly turned away and likely marveled that it could be possible for a small, cute child like Caleb to have a heart condition. He probably understood heart conditions were only for old folks. If I’d been trying to get the old timer to buzz off, I succeeded.
Unfortunately, the episode demonstrated that in my frustration, I became too easily impatient with people who had no particular reason to understand about my son´s heart condition. The man in line was simply trying to be friendly to a cute little boy. While it's oftentimes entirely too easy when facing challenging stresses in our lives such as tending to a chronically ill child, or dealing with an estranged or in-trouble family member, one would do well to remember that our problems are our problems--not everyone elses'. It's unreasonable to expect everyone we meet to understand the stresses we're facing.
Understanding this concept helped me react in a more appropriate fashion the next time I met someone who took notice of my son's purple lips. Also I felt a burden lifted when I realized that everyone I meet will not be aware of my life stresses. Furthermore, I realized that I had no particular burden to explain the source of my stress. I could simply respond, "My son surely does enjoy his suckers--when his mother allows him one!"
The next time I´d follow the ancient wisdom of Solomon:
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly."