My husband and I were talking the other night how we feel a lot of tension around us lately. People just seem to be getting a little ruder, using a little more crass, being a bit snottier when there really is no reason to be. It’s like snarky is the new black.

You see it on social media all the time. A rant in a Facebook Moms group that’s supposed to be about support, a blog bashing a PTA clique, or the famous vaguebooking post sent out to make the world aware that “you don’t mess with me.”

But you can feel it “in real life” too. It’s the rushing around we do as we move into the holiday season oblivious to anyone else; it’s the way we talk to the plumber who was 30 minutes late to an appointment; it’s the way we send emails with words we would never say. It’s like everyone I speak to feels the same way — overwhelmed and agitated.

I started this week in the typical Mommy Manic Monday consisting of needing extra time to pull back and hair spray my daughters’ hair to avoid the lice outbreak at our elementary school, frantically writing in my twins’ journals because we forgot to do it over our crazy busy weekend, and having to redo lunches because I found a HUGE piece of mold on one of the three sandwiches I had just hurriedly put together (yes, if it was small I probably would have scraped it off), I was feeling a bit feisty myself. And it didn’t help when I couldn’t find my headphones when I had decided to reboot my gym habit starting now. It was a good thing my kids were off to school so they didn’t have to face my wrath.

Despite my bad mood, I decided to hit the gym anyway. At the 9:30 a.m. hour, my gym is comprised mainly of senior citizens and a few moms whose kids go to preschool up stairs. I picked an end treadmill next to an older gentleman who was running like the Russian in Rocky IV. Not good for my ego, but lessened the chance that anyone would speak to me.

About ten minutes in, I started to hear some clapping. Then some whoops and hollers and more cheers. I looked to the door and saw an elderly woman coming through with a cane and a huge smile.  The trainers circled around her and several of the regulars were congratulating her, giving  high fives and pats on the back.

My treadmill buddy stopped his workout to join in the applause, so not wanting to be rude, I did the same. I asked what all the hoopla was about with this woman — someone I had seen previously but never really paid any attention to in the past.

He casually told me that roughly a year ago, she had suffered a major stroke. She had been rehabbing at the gym with a physical therapist for ninety minutes five days a week since she was released from the hospital six months ago. He said she comes in every day with a smile and works her butt off harder than anyone else.

Her stroke was so severe that the doctor informed this woman and her family that she most likely would not talk intelligibly again, and at best would only be able to walk using a walker, but that was a long shot.

After hearing him out, this 105 lb. woman who could not talk and could not walk wrote a message to the good doctor. And it said this:

“Screw U.”

And a year later that same woman walked down a flight of stairs and into the gym without any help except for a metal cane for the very first time since her stroke. She moves slow and you can tell her left side is still limp, but seriously. Does it get any better than that? She gave that good doctor — and her stroke — the proverbial middle finger. That is some snark I can get on board with.

As I got back onto the treadmill, I felt a layer of shame wash over me. I realized that I had let the routine of life get me down and lost my vision of what’s important — something I would have missed if I had my headphones. I was starting to use my frustration, my stress, even the little bit of snark I carry around with me, toward the wrong things and towards the wrong people.

And it made me think about how so many of us are doing the same. As parents, it shows up in the way we treat our teachers, how we yell on the sports fields, how we talk to our kids. It is the way we talk about cliques in the PTA and moms with tattoos and kids with blue hair. It’s the unkind behavior to the teen who messed up your Starbucks order or the rant about pick up line or the road rage we feel in our commutes.

All those emotions are fine and justifiable, except when we use the energy we get from them to make other people miserable instead of channelling it for something good. What would happen if instead of yelling at a 15-year-old referee for flag football, we put all that anger to tell cancer to eff off? Or how about taking all that angst we have about feeling judged for our parenting decisions and putting that towards domestic violence? Or how about when someone tells you that you can’t do something, you respond with a simple “Screw U” and then show them how it’s done.

I’m not sure if the world can change their attitude right now. It is a scary place with a lot of scary stuff in it — and we’re all on edge.

But watching that woman use her snarkiness for good instead of evil, well, that’s enough for me to make some small changes. Maybe it will be enough for you, too.

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