29 March 2006


29 March 2006

A year or so ago, I was experimenting with taking the bus.  I walked up to the bus shelter and saw a man sitting and eating his dinner.  The weather being fine and not wanting to intrude, I stood over by the bus sign and tried to figure out when my bus would arrive.

The man started talking to me.  I didn’t really understand what he was saying– something about when the bus would come.  I don’t always parse what people are saying to me, especially when I’ve been lost in thought and don’t have any context for the conversation.  So sometimes my initial replies don’t make much sense either.

In this case, I answered that I thought my bus would be along in five minutes.

He told me to go away.  

I didn’t think I had heard correctly and repeated that my bus would be along soon.

He launched into full-on crazy talking about how this was his bus stop and he was trying to eat in peace.  When I didn’t immediately leave, he flung down his food and stalked away.  My bus came about 30 seconds later.  I felt both bad and scared.  Bad, because he had thrown away his meal and scared because he had become very angry, very quickly.

I spent some time thinking about the way I had handled the situation– could I have done anything different so as not to offend this person?  To this day, I don’t know.  I was standing 15-20 feet away from the shelter and trying not to intrude.  That particular bus stop wasn’t near anything else– it wasn’t like I could duck into another business or even easily cross the street.  After a while the incident was shuffled off into long-term storage in my memory.

It came up today because of my CD player.  I had the main floor of the house to myself and was working in the kitchen.  I decided to play a new CD that a friend had given me.  I put it in the player and listened to the first song.  

Then the CD stopped.  I bumped it along to the next song and worked on dicing potatoes.  It stopped again.  I was starting to worry that something might be wrong with the CD.  I did this twice more and was beginning to consider who I would contact to report this strange problem. 

I was just at the stage of imagining how I would explain the problem to whoever I finally contacted when it occurred to me to check the settings on our CD player.  Sure enough, that was the culprit.  It was set to play only one track at a time (something I didn’t realize it could do).  Apparently, when my husband had made a tape of our son’s favorite song for sharing at school he had used that setting and not switched it back.

I am in the habit of looking at a problem and trying to figure out what my contribution to it might be.  Regardless of whether it is a person or a machine that I am having difficulty with, frequently I am at fault for at least part of the situation.  If I try to analyse the event and figure out what I contributed, I can do better next time.

It doesn’t always work.  The difficulty lies in figuring out how much time and energy to put into determining where my part of things went wrong.  With the CD player, it only took a moment to step back and think about what else could be different (other than the CD itself being non-functional).  For a brief application of time and thoughtfulness, I was rewarded with a tidy solution to my problem.

Sometimes, as with the man at the bus stop, I could replay the loop of our three-minute interaction endlessly looking for where I went wrong and get no closer to an answer.  

Sometimes it’s just me, and the answer lies close to hand... 

if I’m willing to look for it.

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