All the lanes at the grocery store were open and there were still at least three people lined up at each one. I chose what I thought would be the most promising one; a woman taking her receipt from the cashier, about to be on her way out and then a man just after her who had very few items in his cart. It seemed the odds would be in my favor to get out of the store quickly.
The man before me had other ideas. He needed his cigarettes. They had to be Marlboros with the silver label. The cashier seemed to be suddenly unsure what “silver” could mean as she pointed to every box besides the ones for which the man was asking. She somehow even got all the way over to Skol as a possible selection. As the minutes ticked by, I was getting hot in my heavy coat and looked behind me to see an even longer line of agitated people. Would it be faster to check out my own groceries at the U-Scan? Mercifully, the cashier landed on the correct pack of smokes.
The man then wanted to write a check for $20 more than his total amount. A check… That chewed up another three minutes as he asked twelve times what the amount was. The check reader spit his check back out with an error message. The cashier explained at least four different ways the same thing: “Sir, your check cannot be processed for $20 more than your total.” He decided to void this check and try another one. I was becoming unglued by then. I kept a forced smile on my face and began to put my groceries back into my cart.
“I’m so sorry,” the man said turning to me as I loaded the last few items.
“It’s all right. I know these things happen. I just need to get going,” I said pleasantly, convincing even myself that I wasn’t about to flip out.
“It’s just ever since my wife died last month…” his voice trembled a little. “She was the one who did all the shopping for us.”
Well crap. Of course it was some heart-wrenching reason that this poor man would be having a hard time doing this simple task and there I was making him feel rushed. I stopped and looked at him. “I’m very sorry for your loss. I’m sure it’s an adjustment.” I kept my eyes averted and pushed my cart sheepishly over to the U-Scan.
How many times do I need this reminder? We will never know what people are dealing with inside their hearts. I was embarrassed of my impatience. I told my kids the story when I got home.
“We need to be kind and patient with people because we don’t know what they are going through,” I said after telling them the story.
“But Mom, isn’t smoking bad for you?” Luke asked.
“Yes, it’s a bad habit to smoke, but–”
“Maybe that’s why his wife died,” Noah offered. “She breathed in all that gross smoke.”
“That’s not really the point I was trying to ma–” I began.
“Maybe the cashier was trying to make him not buy the cigarettes,” Luke added. I couldn’t help it. The conversation had gotten so sidetracked, I began cracking up. The boys did too.
“You’re right,” I said. “Never smoke. That’s the point of the story.”
Bless these perceptive children.