Yesterday I stepped out into a sunny afternoon, intent on finding some respite. I was aware that this is a bit of a funny thing to do for someone who lives in a sanctuary. Nonetheless, I was on my way to a local coffee shop in hopes of sitting behind my sunglasses, sipping a very large espresso drink, and waiting for delicious boredom to set in.
Then it happened. As I sat with my beverage, a woman in a short red sweater and those narrow jeans that are so popular these days walked in, breezing by me with her eyes on the pastry cases. I know her. She is someone who has been a regular at the temple for many months, or maybe much longer, and she had been taking a class in which I was involved. I was pretty sure she hadn’t seen me – yet.
Slouching down into the big leather chair, I picked up the newspaper and considered the situation. I realized that I had just made a split second decision not to raise my hand and call her attention as she entered. And, now having retained my anonymity, I wasn’t quite sure what might happen next. Surely it was inevitable that she’d see me. After all, it wasn’t that big a place. I had no intention of leaving, but no intention of conversing either. So I sat there reading the paper and not looking up.
Still, out of the edge of my field of vision I saw her walk past me again, this time with her coffee. I thought that I sensed a moment of hesitation but I studiously peered at the paper. A flicker of a question – did she recognize me? It didn’t matter so much to be seen, as to be polite, for if she had identified me I couldn’t avoid her altogether. This I recognize as a trait from my upbringing, the impossibility of being rude.
But I had my answer right away, without so much as a word exchanged. She sat down across the room at a small table with her back to me. This might seem coincidental but, actually, she had to face a wall rather than a brightly lit room full of wooden furniture in order to do it. And she was directly at the wall, not turning even a little to one side or the other. She was ignoring me.
A moment of relief came over me and then the thought that she was doing this to be polite, having interpreted my intense interest in the newspaper as a sign that I would prefer not to be social. Or maybe she had a preference not to have to make small talk with me, and chose the polite wall gazing over a polite conversation. Either way, I was struck by the fact that two adults could wordlessly decide that it was a kindness not to speak to someone they know. Fascinating.
The Buddha taught to that there five things to consider when speaking, so as to ensure that you will be offering kind speech. He advised that one consider whether the thing that one wants to say is: timely, truthful, helpful, polite and compassionate. So in this situation timeliness was not present, and both of us clued into that fact before it was too late. Kindness was not present, and we agreed on that.
Have you ever done that? Ignored someone in a public place because you thought it was kinder or more appropriate than having a conversation? Fill in the poll and let us all know!