My boss in Rome was famous for talking quickly, too quickly – at times – even for translators. We had been asked to give a talk to the client, each of us, for five minutes. I humorously cautioned her not to prepare a 10-minute speech and then try to cram it all in. “You have such nice things to say,” I told her, smiling. “When you slow down, we also get to feel them.”
Strangely, she began to tear up and back-pedal, saying, “Don’t say that now, I’ve had such a hard day, people are beating up on me, if you only knew how hard it was….” Then she launched in two or three other directions, first attacking me for speaking quickly in the past, then saying, “and to top it all off, I don’t have time to talk about this, I have another appointment.”
I could see that this wasn’t the moment to say anything, so I put a hand on her shoulder in solidarity. “Don’t look at me that way,” she blurted out. I looked down. I would have pressed forward, repeated my compliment, or said something to calm her down, but I felt her soul was asking for mercy.
I asked the universe for help, and heard, “don’t push forward, but don’t step back, either.” So I sat there in silence, hand on her shoulder, neither apologizing nor taking back my innocent request. Other friends were also at the table, so I let it go at that.
The next day, I caught her in a crowded restaurant, looking worried and in a hurry to leave but hemmed in by the crowd. Finding myself right in front of her, I danced right and left, pretending to block her way, trying to get her to laugh. “I need to get by,” she said. “I see that,” I said, giggling. “I was just trying to get you to smile.” “Not today,” she quipped, “I have a headache and my back hurts and besides, I’m in a hurry and I really just can’t today….” I quietly moved aside and let her pass. Twice more she passed me in the office that afternoon, justifying herself again for her backache, headache and hurry. I hadn’t said a thing.
Confused, I turned to my friend Sam and said, “All I said was that I wanted to see her smile, and she’s been putting up this wall of bull-putty ever since.” His reply was perfect, and I’ve remembered it for years.
“Some people just don’t have time to be with themselves.”