We began the first morning of our Maui vacation poolside at an adult-only infinity pool overlooking the ocean in Wailea. The sun was shining, nary a cloud in the azure sky, with the coconut fragrance of suntan lotion wafting on the air. My latte was hot and my pineapple fresh and ripe. I had an unlimited supply of books to read and all day to read them. Life couldn’t get much better.
Brrriiiiing. Three minutes into my sunbathing, my mother’s phone rang. Dad was calling to figure out where to find us. Ten seconds into her conversation, an older “gentleman” – whose tan suggested he was several months into his Hawaiian vacation – snapped at me, “Phones aren’t allowed at the pool.” “Thank you,” I said and turned back toward my mother, waiting for her to finish her call so I could address the issue. Another ten seconds pass and round two of the passive-aggressive, snarky comments begins. When I realize the man isn’t going to stop, I turn to him and in my sweetest, “bless-your-heart” Southern drawl say, “I’m so glad you’re having a lovely day,” and we both pretend to ignore each other for the next thirty or so minutes.
My first impression of my pool neighbor was that he was a big, fat jerk. Yes, phone conversations can be annoying when one is trying to relax, but there are so many better ways he could have handled the situation. From that one brief encounter, I had determined that the man was rude, self-centered, and lacked empathy, and that he would continue to be a fly in my ointment for the rest of the day.
Then my sister arrived. Deanna was completely unaware of our mini-drama or the tension in our studiously averted gazes. She immediately struck up a conversation, quickly pulled me into it as well, and within half an hour, Richard, our gentleman poolside neighbor, was ordering food and drinks for us – something that wasn’t on the menu but that the hotel made special for him – on his tab.
We spent two days as part of Richard’s entourage, telling stories, exchanging favorite spots on the island, and making fond memories. He was a charming conversation partner, worldly and seasoned, generous and genuinely interested in other people. Not at all the curmudgeon I first imagined him to be. To think, we might have missed out on this delightful exchange because of a 90-second phone call and a snap judgment. Our trip would have been much poorer for it.
When you meet a stranger, try to remember that you are seeing only a snapshot of who they are. You may see them at their very best or at the lowest moment of their life – you have no way of knowing. So employ a little more patience and empathy, a little less judgment; you can always confirm she’s a jerk later after gathering more evidence. It costs nothing to think well of someone and you might even make a friend.
Thanks, Richard, for the smoothie and the memories.