On the way to the grocery store today, I mused about the blog entry I had planned to write this weekend. I hadn't written it because I just didn't have the heart for it. For some reason, I've been a funk the last week or so, mired in lethargy and apathy. Part of my mood could have been due to my possible infection with swine flu, right on the tail of Allyson's confirmed bout, but I think it's much more than that. I think I'm mainly exhausted from the violent mood swings associated with my dad's recent surgery. He's doing well right now and should be coming home tomorrow, but I seem to be continually teetering between crushing anxiety and giddy relief.
Anyway, as I pulled into the Walmart Market parking lot, I was thinking over two possible blog entries and deciding it just wasn't worth the effort today. I mumbled my habitual grocery store prayer without much feeling: "God, please help me love someone today."
I completed my list with a minimum of aggravation. They weren't out of anything this week, and everyone whose cart was blocking the way was polite and apologetic. Still, I felt dull and rather grumpy as I made my way to the checkout lines.
For once (on a Sunday!), all of the lines were pretty short, so I had the luxury of choosing a line based on the checker. I have several favorites, and three of them were working today. I passed up Miss Efficiency because I wasn't in a hurry and I wasn't in the mood for a lackluster greeting and a thank you that didn't reach her eyes.
Finally, I settled on the new girl. She's probably a bit older than me, and she's quiet and sweet and a little homely--until she smiles. She's also very slow, but that doesn't bother me in the least, though I worry that it might bother other people, and maybe she'll get downsized. I noticed today that the couple ahead of me didn't seem at all bothered. In fact, they engaged in a relaxed conversation with her throughout their leisurely transaction--talking about the new white chocolate Hershey kisses, among other things.
The girl--I wish I knew her name, but I'm very bad with names--became a favorite on a recent shopping trip when I watched her deal with three rude customers in a row. The first two were trying to pass some expired coupons, and she refused to take them because it was against store policy. The guy behind them in line was so smart aleck that he would have had me in tears, but she just smiled sweetly when he said, "What do you think you are? The coupon police?"
"I'm just trying to do my job," she said calmly while she waited for a manager's assistance.
I waited literally 30 minutes, in which time I made friends with the man behind me, who will probably end up being Ethan's high school band instructor. We had that almost festive mood you sometimes see during a natural disaster or a prolonged power outage, when people are determined to make the best of an inconvenient situation.
When it was my turn, I commended her for her patience and excellent customer service skills.
"I just try to be kind to everyone, and to follow the rules," she said humbly.
Today she greeted me with her usual warmth, but I knew if we were going to have a conversation I'd have to initiate it. As I cast about for something to say, my eyes fell on her perfectly manicured, iridescent fingernails.
I took a deep breath. It's still very hard for me to talk to people, especially virtual strangers. "Your nails look pretty," I said, a blush tinging my cheeks.
She blushed, too. "They're just press-ons," she admitted sheepishly, pausing in the bagging with a flourish of both hands.
"It must be hard to keep nice nails when you work with your hands," I said. "I never bother with mine," I continued, displaying my blunt-cut, naked nails. Then I jerked them back because I didn't want to distract her too much.
"I don't think that Ovaltine scanned," I said quietly, in case a manager might be lurking behind me.
"Oh, it didn't!" she said, surprised. She looked off into space, her hands still. I eyed the lady behind me out of the corner of my eye, but she was absorbed in placing her items on the belt and didn't seem to notice the delay. "I have my mother's hands," the checker said, finally scanning the next item.
"I used to hate it that my nails were like Mom's. My dad and my sister's nails grow fast and long, but mine are always breaking off...." She struggled to loop the handles of the next reusable bag over the handles. "But now I love my hands. They look like Mom's, and I miss her so much."
While she meticulously separated the cold foods, canned goods, and produce, her mother's story unfolded. She'd lost her mother to breast cancer in 2001 when she was only 62. She told me what it was like to watch her struggle for four years, and then die after only a month of hospice care when the doctor told them there was nothing else he could do.
She finished the story just as she read me my total. "I always tell my children to appreciate the people around them. You just never know when you might lose someone," she concluded.
"That's good advice," I agreed.
She smiled broadly and handed me my receipt. "Thank you," she said sincerely, looking in my eyes.
"Thank you, too," I replied with my own broad smile.
I'm not sure why the whole interchange lifted my spirits so much. On the surface, it was certainly a gloomy conversation. I guess it was the knowledge that she cared enough to converse with me. She didn't just say the obligatory "Thank you." Instead, she saw me as someone worth knowing.
I think maybe that's the real reason that her line is the longest; maybe it isn't just that she's the slowest checker. I hope Walmart realizes what a gem they have in her. (I'm going to complete the online survey and tell them so.)
Isn't it funny how a stranger's kindness could penetrate the malaise that hung on me all weekend? And isn't it funny that I prayed for God to help me love someone at the grocery store, but he prompted someone to be kind to me instead?
I'm going to try to follow the checker's advice, and her example. I'll try to slow down enough to connect with others, and I'll try to appreciate EVERYONE God puts in my path.