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The value of irritating people

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Perhaps the best thing about writing a column is having a forum to work out what I believe.

It’s also a great place to air my petty beefs and hope that somehow I can find a nugget of truth about God and his kingdom to help us all.

But mostly I just like to publicly tattle about people who irritate me.

For example, people who invade my personal space. This happens mostly at Walmart while at the register waiting for my grocery total.

Yes, I understand that the people in line behind me have important things to do and want to speed up the process of paying for their own groceries and whatnot, but standing on my heels and mouth-breathing on my neck won’t hurry things along.

Neither will standing in front of the card swipe machine. If you’re in front of it, how can I swipe my card, hmmm? Back off, personal space invaders!

Also, if you’re a fast food drive-through window person who wants to make snarky comments about my inability to answer your (unclear) question about the coffee I ordered, please do it after I drive away and not while I’m still at your open window within earshot.

When this happened to me the other day — I’m dying to tell you the name of the place and some identifying traits of the offending person! — the first thing I thought of was: “Ha ha. I have the phone number of the person who owns this place and I can call and cause some trouble if I so choose.”

I liked that thought.

However, my second thought was: “Oh, like that’s mature.”

Then my third thought reminded me that my irritation and wanting to blow it all out of proportion and actually cause trouble only revealed what’s in my heart, that I think my personal space is more important than another’s. That I’m irritated when someone dishes snark about me (although I love a good snarkfest when it’s about someone else).

Carl Jung said everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. A lot of times what irritates me about others is something I don’t like about myself, although I’m pretty sure I’m not a personal space invader.

It’s one thing to understand; it’s another to repent. That’s the hard part.

When it comes to irritants — think gnats and “no see ums” and buzzing mosquitoes and people who stand too close — they serve a purpose. I’ve already said they reveal our true selves, and I could stop there and write volumes. Who doesn’t like a good “We’re all a bunch of whiny, easily offended babies/vile sinners” column with their morning coffee?

But irritants also make us better.

Think of a pearl.

Pearls, which have great value, start off as annoying irritants inside an oyster. It would be like a splinter in your foot or a sty in your eye that drives you crazy trying to get rid of it.

For an oyster, in an effort to get rid of the particle of sand or whatever it is, it covers up the irritant with layers of a substance called nacre. Over time the irritant, covered with nacre, becomes a pearl, which goes onto a string and ends up around June Cleaver’s neck for her to wear while she vacuums.

Natural pearls, or so I read, are quite rare. Most pearls in jewelry stores today are “cultured” — oyster farmers implant beads into unsuspecting oysters, which causes them to make pearls.

Akoya pearls, harvested from the cool saltwater off Japan’s coast, are the most rare because the oysters in this water cannot survive when their pearls are harvested — and it takes up to two years to produce one pearl.

The Bible says the gates of heaven are made with pearl, precious and beautiful. Jesus told a story about the kingdom of God being like a man in search of fine pearls. When he finds one of great value, he sells everything he has to buy it (Matthew 13:45-46).

Apparently, God likes pearls.

So, — I’m just thinking out loud here — maybe instead of letting irritants eat away at us and cause us to do stupid things like call up someone’s boss and rat on them or getting so uptight at people who stand too close that we want to turn around and give the stink eye, maybe if we cover the people who irritate us with kindness and blessing, patience and grace (just like God does with us), maybe they and us will become better.

You know, like precious pearls.

Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at (352) 564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at nkennedy@chronicleonline.com.