Friday, 8 December 2006

We all have our own lives

I was in hell's prior residence the other day- the supermarket - minding my own business and unloading my grocery cart. The kids were good - although it did take threats and bribery to get that level of co-operation.
Halfway through unloading my cart a woman stood behind me in line. The cashier, a slight woman in her late 30's of Asian origin, with a very prominent accent, politely informed the woman that her register's lane light was off and so she was not taking anymore customers. The woman nodded and moved on. A little later the same thing happened, this time the person being asked to move on looked a little annoyed, furrowed her brow, but moved away without a word.
Halfway through bagging my groceries, yet another woman approached the register and began unloading her cart; oblivious to the dead light at the top of the register. The customer was a large woman in her late 30's, with a thick English accent, a boofy shag of golden blond hair, and a big brightly painted mouth; her stature appeared to loft over both me and the cashier.
Once again the cashier was forced to stop what she was doing to politely inform the customer that her register was closed; a gesture that inspired a barrage of abuse and accusation onto the poor cashier.
"Where is the sign to say you are closed?"
Cashier points to the dimmed light above her register.
"How the hell am I supposed to see THAT? WHERE IS YOUR SIGN?"
"No sign only light".
"Well I have to pick up my son from school, can't you just let me through"?
Looking at the woman's overladen cart, the cashier shrugs, pastes a regretful smile on her face and says "Sorry".
Yelling now, "So YOU are willing to have ME be late in picking up my son AND you haven't even bothered to put out your $*?!'n sign? I can't believe you! Halfway through a customer and NO SIGN. That is insane, how bloody STUPID!"
I was shocked - such unnecessary behaviour. What was the cashier supposed to do? Cashiers must get that all the time, I thought to myself...crap treatment from customers. I know I have in the past when I worked in stores. It is so unfair.
The cashier, meanwhile, continued serving me. She maintained her politeness and professionalism, but she was quiet, seemingly hurt and embarrassed by what had just taken place. I would have been too.
"Your kids very cute", she said, more to break the uncomfortable silence than anything else. "I wish I had daughter".
"Thank you. You have a son? " I asked her.
"Yes. Two", she replied.
silence.... "Then you probably have a son to pick up from school too."
She looked up momentarily, briefly catching my gaze, then smiled before going back to the task at hand, "Yes", she said, "I already five minute late".
This interaction stuck with me. We are often so caught up with out own lives and needs that we fail to consider another person's situation, requirements, feelings and even the day they might have had that might have caused them to break.
I was on the receiving end of a disgruntled elderly customer two weeks prior. He had sent a torrent of foul mouthed venom my way, because my kids were making too much noise while we both waited at the same cashiers station. He verbally abused my kids and then he started on me and my apparent incompetency as a parent. I don't know what was going on with him, but his unjustified attack had me seething for hours afterward, while he probably shuffled off home either feeling satisfied and lighter having just off loaded all his pent up anger in a bout of self-righteous grandstanding or perhaps he felt worse after releasing the poisons darts of his soul.
Flip the card over and consider this humanity salvaging observation.... my hair stylist was telling me that HE was in the supermarket this week and witnessed a mother doing her shopping with an hysterical screaming child strapped in the toddler seat. As he watched, the mother broke down in tears - she could take no more. He said that his heart just broke for her, as did mine when I heard that story. I have been there too. The hair stylist then went on to say that an elderly woman approached the mother; they didn't appear to know each other, but the elderly woman knew what the mother needed in that moment. She took put her arm around the mother and spoke quietly to her. The mother then walked to the other side of the cashiers station and sat down on the seats. The elderly woman pushed the shopping cart to the side and took the screaming child out of the seat speaking calmly as she did so. The baby continued to cry, but the old lady was not affronted, she just let the mother sit quietly for a minute or two so the mother could muster the strength and composure continue on.
I think if someone had done that for me I would probably have cried harder knowing that someone cared, that someone saw my humanity through the crumbling facade of my being.
Thank God for the dear souls who can momentarily put aside their own agendas and distractions in life, to recognise the needs of others, for things are not always what they seem. Thank God for people like that elderly woman who not only recognised, but chose to stretch out an experienced hand to firmly suggest that tired mother take a break. Life is complicated, there are many layers and reasons why to every single thing we do and how we react. We all have stressors...we all have lives of our own. We have choices, and among those choices is how we respond to fellow human beings.

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