It’s happened to all of us. You’re entering a public building, just about to let the door swing closed behind you, when you notice someone else approaching the door. Do you stand awkwardly and wait, holding the door, or let it close?
It happened to my friend Helene as she was entering the library. She chose to let the door close. Big mistake.
She walked slowly into the library, deep in thought. What was the name of that author her friend had recommended?
“Thanks for holding the door for me.” Helene heard the words, but they didn’t register as being directed at her. She was still trying to remember the author’s name, or maybe even the title of the book.
“Thanks for holding the door for me,” a little louder. Again, Helene heard the words, but her mind was still wandering through that mystical Land of Titles and Authors.
“Thanks for holding the door for me,” this time loudly enough for Helene to realize it was addressed to her. Absent-mindedly, she answered, “You’re welcome,” and strolled toward the fiction shelves. Only then did what had just happened connect for her.
I was mad about this for days. I’m not sure why I was so annoyed. Helene is one of the sweetest, most gentle and caring people I know, good through and through–and only occasionally a little absent-minded. I was defensive of her, likely.
But a greater irritation grew. When did this courtesy of holding a door for someone become an obligation, a requirement? If it’s expected, it’s no longer a polite gesture, a gift–it’s obligatory, a rule.
And then I realized my real concern. I use the same library. I walk through those same doors once or twice a week, and I’m often preoccupied with my reason for being there. That woman is still out there and could come after me. I had to be ready!
So how will I answer the Courtesy Patrol Person when it’s only a matter of time before she corners me?
“Oh my gosh, you poor soul! (my hand on her arm) Did I neglect to hold the door for you? What an injustice that was! (hand to my forehead) How could I have been so insensitive? (both arms stretched out above my head) How can you ever forgive me? I will regret this forever!”
Yes, maybe too cynical.
Well, how about, “Guten tag! Ich bin eine Deutschlander. Sprechen sie Deutsch?” (with a quizzical and friendly grin)
Or even, (looking at my watch), “Ah, I think you might be mistaken. It’s not quite the hour when door holding is required. I think that starts at 4:15 p.m. That’s all right (patting her back), don’t feel bad–sometimes I confuse those starting times, too! It’s a lot to remember, isn’t it?”
Or maybe, “Hmmmm….(moving closer to look at her carefully). You look just like–you ARE! You’re Henrietta! Remember me? We served on that committee together! Wasn’t that a hoot? You look like you’ve lost weight–and I love the way yhou’re wearing your hair now! Who does it? (do not give her time to answer, important to talk rapidly, not give her a chance to interrupt) Do you ever see the old gang? Remember the night after the gala when we–no, don’t worry (wink, wink). I won’t tell a soul! So good to see you! Let’s get together some time and catch up!” (leave quickly)
In the end, I might simply go with Helene’s reply, “You’re welcome!” And then I’ll add (with a smile), “It was nothing!”