All I wanted to do was vote in peace. Not this Election Day.
It all started when my wife went to the bathroom while I waited in line with a few hundred other people to vote. The poll worker came out and appeared to split the line in two – or something – I couldn’t tell, because I was just trying to keep an eye on my two daughters who were playing on the lawn.
Anyway, after the poll worker split the lines, I picked the line closest to the lawn. That was apparently the point when I cut in line. A few minutes later, my wife came back from the bathroom, and the line moved forward. We were just about to pass a young family when the dad confronted me.
“What makes you think you can just cut in front of all of us?” the young father asked.
I was taken aback. I had no idea what he was talking about.
“What?” I said.
“Why do you think you can cut in front of all of us while we have to wait in line?” he asked.
“Just keep going,” my wife said. “We didn’t cut in line.”
“Um – well, I was just trying to watch my kids, you know,” I said, confused. “We have two little girls, and -”
“Yeah, we’ve got little kids with us too, and so do a lot of other people, but that doesn’t mean you can cut in front of everyone.”
The man was starting to get feisty.
“What are you talking about?” I asked, clearly annoyed with him.
The poll worker walked up in the middle of the exchange and said, “Sir, you really aren’t supposed to cut in line.”
By that point, my wife was getting visibly embarrassed, and I just wanted it to be over.
“Listen dude,” I said to the guy, like I was talking to a teenage kid, “where do you want me to go?”
“Go back to wherever you were before you cut in line,” he snipped back.
“Fine,” I said. And before walking away, I added, “Cool your jets, man,” so that everyone could hear it.
I went and picked up my daughters and began the march of shame past a number of faces that I suddenly recognized as those who were, at one point, in front of me in the line. A couple of people had smirks on their faces. I had cut in line after all. Awesome.
The argument felt like some of the ones I’ve had with my wife before. They start when I do something offensive without realizing it, and she calls me out in a less-than-charitable manner. Because I’m so convinced I didn’t do anything wrong, I cop an attitude with her. And the argument ends up going on way longer than it ever should have because I didn’t just stop and listen to her.
Now, wonder of wonders – that dynamic was playing out with some random guy in the line at the polling place.
As I stood back in my rightful place in the line, there was a part of me that just wanted to get over it and move on. But another part of me wanted to go to the guy and apologize for cutting in line and then copping an attitude with him. Of course, he had copped an attitude with me too, but that wasn’t the point.
My actions started the whole thing, so I wanted to do what I could to resolve it. I debated back and forth, but I eventually decided that I wanted my kids (and his) to have a better example. I started walking towards the man, hoping no one would think I was on my way to assault him.
“Hey man,” I said in my friendliest voice, “I just wanted to come over and tell you I’m sorry. I honestly didn’t realize I had cut in line, and when you said something, I was confused. But rather than try to understand what you were saying, I started acting like a jerk. And I know that wasn’t right. So I apologize.”
The man’s wife smiled warmly, he reached over to shake my hand, and the tension evaporated.
“Thanks for coming over and saying something,” he said. “You’re forgiven.”
We spoke very briefly after that, and I walked away feeling like I had gotten a part of myself back. I mean, ideally, I would have tried to listen to him in the first place rather than getting all defensive (regardless of his attitude). But I figured at least I had the good sense to apologize quickly and sincerely. It’s amazing how powerful it was.
Come to think of it, maybe I should try that next time with my wife.