I love presents. I mean, who doesn’t? It’s a present. Just the simple nature of it makes you love it. It’s the anticipation and the unwrapping and the shaking and the guessing. It’s all just a big bunch of goodness.
But as much as I love them—especially the ones that come loaded with diamonds (Dave, that one was for you, babe)—I learned a long time ago that gifts come in lots of different shapes and sizes. And the good ones aren’t just relegated to the little powder blue box with the white ribbon, either. They come in lots of different forms—forms that we don’t always recognize as gifts the first time around. That’s why I always try to pay attention so I won’t miss one when it comes in disguise.
Kind of like the one I got last week when I was waiting in the checkout line at CVS. And good thing I was paying attention, lemme tell you, because this one was a humdinger!
Now I’ll never divulge the name of the person who gave me this gift, because, quite honestly, names are irrelevant here; it’s the story that’s the real gem, so pay attention.
Let me frame it out for you.
I’m waiting in line to buy my 300-count Excedrin bottle (I’ve got teenage daughters, what can I say?), when I glance over my shoulder and notice a friend of mine at the register next to me.
I say ‘hi’ and we chat for a bit, and then, as we’re about to go our separate ways, she asks me if I can spare a minute to talk. What followed was a conversation that I could never have been prepared for in my wildest imagination. It both took me by surprise and inspired me in ways I’m still processing over a week later.
She starts by asking me if I remember back to the first time, many years ago, when we first met. And much as I wish I could remember it, I can’t. So she reminds me.
My friend tells me that the first time we met our kids were all young, like elementary-school age, and we were in one of the school parking lots waiting for soccer practice to end. Apparently, and unbeknownst to me at the time, I was parked in a handicapped spot. Now this detail alone was enough to through my hands over my mouth, because I was so horrified at the idea that I was parked in a handicapped space. And that’s because anyone who knows me knows that the only way you’d ever find my car parked in a handicapped parking space is over my own cold, dead body.
But that’s only a minor detail in the story. There’s more. Oh, there’s more.
She reminds me that my car was filled with kids and I was on the phone when she knocked on my window. She was knocking only to let me know, in case I didn’t realize it, that I was parked in a handicapped spot. She wasn’t there to yell at me, or to chastise me; she was simply pointing it out.
But here comes the shocker…
It seems as though, after she pointed out where I was parked, I leaned out the window and said, “How do you know that I’m not handicapped?”
At this point my heart is a single pump away from exploding all over all my other organs. I’m horrified. Even the simple thought that such a thing could ever or would ever have passed through my lips has my mouth completely bone dry. I’m talking like a visceral reaction, here—legs are buckling, hands are shaking—the full Monty.
Seeing how affected I am, she immediately says she isn’t telling me this to upset me, but that it’s part of a bigger story. She goes on to tell me that at that moment, her impression of me was cemented in stone. I was a bitch. And Jesus, I can’t say I blame her.
She also acknowledged that I had a lot going on around me in the car that day and that it’s possible I didn’t hear exactly what she said. And we all know I’ve been known to be slightly sarcastic from time to time. Still, there would never be a legitimate excuse for that kind of a response. But be that as it may, I took her at face value and prayed to God there was some kind of mix up in the universe that day and it was a case of mistaken identity. Either way, I had absolutely no memory if it, nor would I ever have imagined answering someone like that.
She goes on to tell me that she’s hated my guts ever since. BAAAAAAM! I took that one right between the eyes. She says that I may not have even realized it over the years, but she’s made a conscious effort to avoid me. She even admitted that she’s read some of my columns and thought I was fake and a hypocrite. And hell, if I said what she thought I said, I’d consider myself a monster, too.
But here’s the point where things took an unexpected turn. She tells me that she’s confiding all this in me because she’s had a complete revelation over the last few years and she felt it was time I knew.
You see, our daughters know each other well and she’s been more or less forced over the years to get to know me too. And because of that, she’s realized, over time, that the person she met that day in the parking lot was not the person she thought I was. She had what I guess you might call an epiphany.
And that’s when I started to get choked up, right there in the express line. Because it was her honesty and her humility that really touched me. I mean let’s face it, not many people would have the courage to admit all that. And I think even fewer still would’ve allowed themselves to change their opinion. But she did. And it was beautiful.
Now you can bet that I gave her one helluvan apology just in case whatever did come out of my mouth that day even slightly resembled what she remembers hearing. But the funny thing is, she told me that an apology wasn’t necessary because karma had already balanced the scales years ago.
Because apparently, shortly after that day in the parking lot, I fractured my ankle running. So the next time she saw me I was on crutches. And she said she just smiled when she saw me, because she knew at that moment that karma had evened the score. And I really didn’t blame her for thinking it, either. Because I guess I would have too, if I was her. And I admired her for saying it to my face.
We hugged before we left the store and I meant it when I told her how grateful I was that she finally told me what had been on her mind all these years. It was a brave move and I respected it.
So what’s the lesson in all this? Well, I think it’s pretty obvious. Don’t ever look a gift horse in the mouth, because you just never know what’s gonna be inside the box. It might just be the best thing you never knew you wanted.