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This weekend, I cleaned out my closets, which I hate doing. I tried to throw out anything I hadn’t worn in the last year. By the end of the project, I was red-faced and sweaty, but it felt good to have it done. Ready to get rid of the clutter that had come from the cleaning process, I loaded the bags in my car and drove to the donation center.
Before I could even approach the front door, a gentleman came out of the donation center. He was big and tall, wearing a camouflage muscle shirt and shorts. He did not look happy to see me.
“How much stuff do you have?” he asked.
“A few bags,” I answered.
“I can take one bag,” he said, “but I need you to drive to another donation center for the rest.”
I answered with an exasperated sigh.
He got louder. “People are acting like this place is their garage! Know what I’m saying? I haven’t had time to go to the restroom! Do you want to come in and see the junk they’re bringing? Like their garage! Ma’am I’m sorry but you need to go to the next station with your other bag. It’s not far.”
Knowing I did not have that much stuff, I said, “Can you please just take it? I don’t have time to go to the other station.” I watched as another lady sneaked in behind him and put her bags in the donation center.
I could tell that my question and the sneaky lady overwhelmed him, though he was trying to do his job without going off on me. He appeared to be the only person working at this particular donation station that day.
“The truck didn’t come and I don’t have room,” he said.
I could feel myself getting agitated. I just wanted the bags out of my car, out of my house, and out of my life. I wanted to unload my baggage and give it to this man. I wanted to tell him about all the reasons I didn’t have time to go to another donation center, but I knew he didn’t care about my chicken tenders or lacrosse game.
Irritated, I got back in the car with my remaining bags and calculated the time I needed. Fifteen minutes to the other donation center, 15 minutes to Cane’s to pick up the tailgate chicken tenders for lacrosse, 15 home, 15 to get my son to his game early, 15 back home, 30 to get the other son and meet the in-laws and get to the game.
Fifteen minutes later, I pulled into the second donation center. As I carried my bag across the parking lot, an older gentleman said, “Why didn’t you use the drop off lane?” I replied, “Because I didn’t know there was one,” and moved my car. This man, with more years’ practice keeping his word-filter active and not saying everything on his mind, sternly and quietly took my bags.
“When do you get off?” I asked.
“Fifteen minutes, ma’am.” And then, “I ain’t gonna say what I was thinkin’ when I saw you pull into that lot with more work for me to do.”
We laughed together and agreed that the last hour before quitting time is the worst part of the work day. I wished him a good weekend and drove away.
On the drive to get the chicken tenders, I processed the interactions I had. I was trying to unload my baggage. The first guy was at his limit and couldn’t take my baggage that day. The second guy was able to take it, once he knew he could trust me to laugh about it with him.
This particular day I was trying to dump my physical baggage. But how many times do I dump my emotional baggage on my family or children? How often do they dump theirs on me?
Recently at work I had a reaction like that of the first donation worker. Something happened after an emotionally draining, difficult morning. I lost my filter with my colleagues and had an emotional rant. I dumped my baggage on them.
On that day, my colleagues were emotionally stable enough to handle my baggage. On other days, I am emotionally stable enough to handle theirs. And that’s how life goes. Before I dump my baggage on other people, I need to be conscious enough to notice if they can handle it. Some days, I may need to drive to the next donation station, or keep my baggage to myself.
I picked up the chicken tenders and re-calculated my time. I had an extra 10 minutes. I picked up an extra chicken combo box and drove back to the first donation center, which is close to my house. The camouflage-muscle-shirt-wearing man was standing outside talking to an older woman.
He looked ready to reject another donation, but I told him I had a donation of a different type and handed him some chicken tenders and a lemonade. His smile lit up the parking lot. “Are you serious right now?" he asked. “You gonna bless me like this? Thank you, ma’am. May God bless you today.”
And I did feel blessed, not just because I was able to dump my physical baggage, but even better – I was able to help refill this man’s emotional cup. And that felt a hundred times better than my organized closets.