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  • Gas Station Hero

Compassion as a Superpower

This is a potato. It is intended to represent a hot potato, which is what my family calls it when someone who is upset tries to pull you into their emotional spiral. My brother taught me this. At times, people will try to give you their hot potato when they are upset. You can choose to take it, and get upset too, holding their hot potato, or you can choose not to take it and remain unaffected.

This summer I was with my brother at a BP gas station in Beachwood, Ohio. It is the moment I realized that Josh and I have superpowers. Here is what happened.

We pulled up to a gas pump, and I noticed the car in front of me was a distance of about a full car width away from the second pump, and no one was in the car. I figured the driver had gone into the station to get a soda, or pay with cash.

As I stood pumping gas, a harried woman came rushing to the car in front of me, looking at me and shouting. I looked at her back, but didn't comprehend that she was shouting at me at first, because I couldn't think of anything that would solicit that. A few seconds into it I asked my brother Josh, who was sitting in the passenger seat, "Is she yelling at me?"

Another few seconds and we both realize she was indeed yelling at me, and WOW, she was lobbing hot potatoes in our direction something fierce. I made out something about how my car was pulled forward too much making it hard for her, which wasn't true, I calmly assessed.

Honestly, it was just a few seconds, but the power of that moment was real. I could almost see the hot potatoes coming at us, and dropping to the ground as though we had an invisible force field. She really, really wanted me to catch her hot potato and yell back, engaging with her in a gas pump verbal smack down. Can you see me doing that? Jeez.

We were just plain unaffected by her fury, but more importantly, my brother and I, in the trenches with our own suffering with cancer, knew that this woman was having a very, very bad day, something we were well acquainted with. Instead of reflecting her fury with anger, we felt a whole lot of compassion. Our new superpower.

We acknowledged to each other that her day is clearly worse than ours, and however it is manifesting in that moment, even if it is crazy negative, she needed grace. Maybe she is coming from the cancer center too? I don't know if she heard our blessing, which we said quietly to each other, that we hoped her day gets better, and we understand her pain in that moment is real. She didn't need a food fight, she needed acceptance.

We didn't have room in our car for hot potatoes anyway.

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