I climbed the curved marble staircase at the library looking forward to a morning exploring the nonfiction section, writing at an oak study table, and disappearing into another world of places and ideas.
As I strolled down the stacks of philosophy books, I heard a cell phone ring. I was glad I remembered to turn mine off. How embarrassing, I thought. A gentleman in his mid-thirties answered his phone in a normal-toned voice.
Stretched out in a reading chair, he launched into conversation. I tried not to listen, but in the hushed atmosphere of the library, it was impossible to ignore. I wanted to offer an excuse for his behavior. Maybe it’s important.
When he told his companion what he ate for breakfast, I felt myself getting irked. He rose from the chair and wandered up and down the rows of books as he continued talking. I looked around to see if I was the only one shocked by his actions, but the library was virtually empty so early in the day.
I headed to the other side of the room, but like a nasty piece of toilet paper stuck to my shoe, the man trailed behind me. At this point, I was completely annoyed. Not only could I hear his side of the conversation, the phone was so loud I could hear the other person’s comments, too. (She could not believe what her sister said, and she had a new recipe for loaded baked potatoes.) By now, the man had copped a squat on a footstool in the middle of the stacks where he chatted as if he was at home.
I walked toward the help desk, a couple dozen feet away, curious at the librarian’s response to the man’s lack of consideration. I found her in quiet conversation with a co-worker. The thought of addressing the situation seemed too uncomfortable. My irritation made me irritated at myself for being so irritated.
I went back down the marble stairs and returned to my car questioning myself. Was it acceptable for someone to talk loudly on the phone in the middle of the library? Was I wrong to be annoyed? Should I have addressed it? As I sat in the parking lot, I knew there had to be a lesson in loveliness here.
Driving home, I steamed about how rude people have become. I wasn’t thinking about extremely egregious behavior, just the lack of basic manners. The shopper with a full cart in the express lane, the driver who blares his horn the instant the light turns green, the person texting in the movie theatre, the gift gone unacknowledged, pajama pants at a nice restaurant.
In the name of research, I called the library when I got home to ask about its cell phone policies. The employee told me that cell phones are one of the library’s biggest problems, and it’s getting worse.
They do have a policy. If a person’s phone use causes a complaint from another visitor, the librarian hands the offender a three-by-five card that says, “Please be considerate. Keep your phone conversation brief and your voice low.” It also suggests areas of the building more suitable to phone conversations.
My call affirmed what I knew to be true. He was wrong! I was right! Lesson learned.
Or so I thought.
The next day, my morning reading concluded with this scripture, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” A Facebook post reminded, “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” A book on etiquette taunted me with this quote, “The test of good manners is the ability to graciously tolerate bad manners.”
No doubt, the universe was trying to teach me a larger lesson in loveliness.
It’s a toughie, but think I got it.
“Let the refining and improving of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others.” ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.