I was shopping for food last night, when I was punched by a crazy lady.
It was so astoundingly unexpected that I just stood there in complete shock. I was grabbing something down from the shelf in my local IGA (small supermarket) when I heard a noise behind me. At first I thought something had fallen off a shelf, so I just glaced around to see what it was. There was a woman about 4 paces away, and once I realised that's probably where the noise came from, I turned back around to finish what I was doing. It really was just a glance, not me shooting her The Look (the one that can stop small children and full steam locomotives in their tracks).
A second later she bumps into me, and then follows it with the hardest punch she can land right between my shoulder blades. She then followed that up by saying, as sarcastically as she can deliver, "Oh, sorry mate. Sorry I bumped into ya." I asked her "What the fuck was that for?", and her response was "Mind your own business. Now piss off!"
So many thoughts tap danced in steel capped boots through my head in the next second. That she's crazy. That I could probably hurt her real bad if I wanted to. That I wonder if this supermarket (normally staffed by 2 indifferent cashiers) has such thing as 'Security'? Why me? etc etc.
But then in the next second I thought about what it must be like inside her head. What must it be like to be walking such a tightrope, to have such an incredible hairtrigger temper? Was she high? Was she actually nuts, or just pissed at me for somethig maybe I didn't realise I had done? What must it be like to live a life where your own reactions are so outside the norm, as to make people look at you and label you "crazy"? Unhinged. From a Buddhist point of view, I was really interested in what story had she told herself to make her label me "enemy" in that split second? Someone punch-worthy.
Short answer, I walked away and went and bought my stuff. Yes I was furious, and a small part of me still considered the option of smacking her back from one side of the aisle to the other, but I decided to swallow my own ego reaction and not escalate the situation. I was tense, and trepidatious that she wasn't going too make some further scene for the minute or two I stayed in the store.
I thought about it a lot on the way home, still kind of reeling from being on the recieving end of someone's unexpected anger. I thought a lot about how I reacted, how I labelled her as "crazy" straight away. If I had actually shot her a judgemental look, then I would have still been shocked at her reaction but it would have felt a bit more understandable, I guess. I don't know. Ultimately we can only guess at what goes on in each other's internal landscapes, and reactions are not always what you expect.