…as an excuse to treat others poorly.
As most people know, yesterday was the 15th anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies in American history. There were many memorial services held all across the country to honor those lost that day and after as a direct result of their heroic efforts. It was a time of reflection and remembrance.
I was at work that day when the reality of the situation hit – when the panic and hysteria set in. One of my coworkers was pregnant with her first child. She literally asked how she was going to have her baby if the world was ending. I remember thinking she was nuts at first. The planes were crashing hundreds of miles away from us, but then the speculation of the next targets began in earnest. My workplace was less than 5 miles from a power plant.
So I caught the panic, just like everyone else. This tragedy became all about me…
I tried to call home since R.J. was working 3rd shift and should have answered. I gave up in the afternoon since I figured he should be sleeping. All the while cursing my in-laws, because I knew they had stopped over after I left. Here was the biggest emergency most of us had ever experienced (keep in mind I was nowhere near New York City or Washington D.C.) and they made it impossible for me to get in touch with the one person I cared the most about – you know, besides me.
So over the course of the day the panic turned to anger and the anger built to rage and I began to rehearse what I would say to R.J. when I got home. But then I realized I had a better target for my rage – my mother-in-law. So by the time I got home I was seething and couldn’t wait to say all the things that I had thought of during the day.
I don’t remember exactly what I did and said after I got home. I do know it involved waking up R.J. and realizing that he had no clue what had happened. Then there was the phone call to my mother-in-law. To this day I have no idea what I said to her. All I know is that I had to apologize over and over again and it took months to get back to a somewhat functional relationship.
I took an awful, horrendous thing that didn’t really affect me personally and used it as an excuse to verbally abuse the people who meant the most to me – all because I felt abandoned and alone. It was a trigger that made me want to make someone pay for others’ past mistakes.
It was only many years later that I realized just how badly I acted that day. I am so ashamed that I was ever that selfish. I couldn’t get over myself long enough to acknowledge an expecting mother and admit she had a legitimate reason to freak out. I had no empathy.
Now I know how very easy it is to use tragedy, recent or decades old, as an excuse to hurt others. While my heart goes out to the true victims of that day and I take time to honor their memories, I use the memory of this tragedy for more personal reasons.
Every year I remember I almost did irreparable damage to the most important relationships in my life. I think about the consequences of selfish behavior and how easy it is to hurt others. I think of the nonchalant way I can throw out insults and sarcasm without a thought of the pain they cause.
Without a thought…
I say no more. I can no longer treat people the way I was treated in the past. I can no longer use my past hurts to dictate how I treat people now.
I can no longer use tragedy as an excuse…
How about you?