Many years ago, I was a miserable mess of a girl, weeping in a beach parking lot over the latest indignity my verbally (and later physically) abusive boyfriend visited upon me. I wasn’t sure how I’d gotten there. I was smart. I was reasonably attractive. I came from a loving family with two happily married parents. I wasn’t the kind of girl who cried in parking lots.
Yet, there I was. Minutes before, I was hanging my head while my boyfriend berated me for being stupid, a disappointment, not good enough, [insert denigrating remark here]. And I felt sick to my stomach because I took it. I took that shit like it was mine. Like I had been waiting for someone to hand it to me so I could store it carefully away in my mental hope chest.
As I stood there crying, a woman approached. I didn’t know her well, but she had been at the disaster of a picnic we’d just attended and likely she had witnessed the scene with my boyfriend. She didn’t ask me if I was okay, because clearly I wasn’t. She just stood there, with a sympathetic half smile on her face. All I said to her was, “I don’t think anyone would believe how he talks to me.” She put her hand on my shoulder and said, gently, “No one, and I mean no one has the right to make you feel like this. No one deserves this.” Then she continued to her car with her blanket and cooler.
It would be another two months before I broke up with that man, and before I did, he would inflict more damage on me. But those plain and rather obvious words had been what I needed to hear at that moment. They seeded my parched spirit with hope, and the belief that I didn’t deserve the ration of misery I was regularly served began to grow and grow until one day, I was able to walk away.
I grew up, figured myself out a bit, married a good man, and had a kid. One night, that kid was suffering from one of those pesky respiratory things where they can only sleep fitfully while propped up on your shoulder. He was my first, and I wasn’t going to sleep anyway, so I was resigned to being a human pillow. I held my toddler son and surfed the internet and lo! I found kind parking lot lady’s contact information! I had thought of her often over the years and wished for the chance to tell her what a difference she’d made in my life.
She responded to my email immediately. She was surprised and grateful. She did remember me, but didn’t particularly recall the details of that day. I told her I wanted her to know that that moment of kindness had a profound impact on me. She thanked me and then sent me a link to something called the Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent Keith. “Please follow these,” she wrote. “I think you will find them helpful.” It was the last communication I had with her, but I’ve read and reread those commandments and shared them often. I thought I’d do so again today on International Happiness Day as you never know the effect a well-timed bit of wisdom can have on someone’s life.