Bagels & Newspapers

and coffee and strangers

The memory I reach for when I think of something that changed my worldview took place in a bagel shop on a Tuesday morning.

I was standing in line. I do not eat bagels. I was watching the other patrons.

A man was reading a newspaper. It was not his newspaper. Its owner was across the room, getting cream for his coffee. The two people did not know each other. The owner politely informed the reader that it was his newspaper. The reader stated that he knew, and would not take it, but wanted to read the news. The owner watched him until he finished reading and walked away.

As an unnaturally angry child, for so I was at the time, being now an unnaturally angry adult, I was surprised that neither actor had lashed out. I could see myself as either person, and in both cases I was characteristically angry with the other.

"Hey, that's mine! Don't touch it!" "Sorry, I just wanted to read the front page..."

"Excuse me, that newspaper is mine." "Yeah, I know that, genius. I'm just reading it, jeez!"

Being able to see the interaction from both angles helped me a lot with learning to be tolerant of other humans. I was eventually able to see it as it had happened, being both a curious passer-by whose eye was caught by a headline, and as the person wanting it not to disappear before he could read it himself, neither assuming malice on the part of the other.

The act took perhaps twenty seconds. I did not buy a bagel. I doubt anyone else in that shop remembers.