Immediately after work, I headed to the grocery store. Off I went, with my grocery list and coupons in hand, to complete this routine task on a perfectly ordinary day. As I made my way through the aisles, the items on my list were added to my cart one by one. As I checked off the last thing on the list, I made my way to the checkout lane and saw a familiar, yet unwelcome, site. There were more shoppers than cashiers, and the lines were already long and getting even longer.
As I surveyed my options, I chose one of the lanes and waited . . .and waited . . .and waited. I chalked it up to my uncanny ability to somehow manage to choose the wrong line, regardless of the venue. As I inched closer to the conveyor belt, I realized that I was in the right line after all.
What changed my mind had nothing to do with an improvement in the speed of the line, as it remained bottlenecked, but it had everything to do with the end of the line, or rather who was at the end of the line. It was one of the baggers whom I have seen on previous visits to the store, but this was the first time I truly saw him.
As I waited my turn in line, I heard him talking softly to the customers ahead of me. He always is polite and somewhat shy, and his mannerisms and speech suggest that he may contend with some sort of emotional or mental challenges. He usually chats with me about how his day has gone or about an item I have purchased. My interactions with him always have been cordial, but not memorable. Until this evening.
When I finally arrived at the front of the line, I watched my groceries make their way to the bagger, where they began piling up in front of him. Instead of chatting with me, as he has done in the past, he worked silently and slowly. Very slowly. He broke the silence by apologizing to me, I am so sorry that I’m so slow. Sometimes, my brain just doesn’t know what to do, and I get paralyzed. I noticed that his usual laid back demeanor had been replaced by a quiet, but growing, nervousness.
When I reassured him that he was doing a great job and that I was not in a hurry at all, he became even more contrite and repeatedly said, I’m doing the best I can. The more he said it, the more my heart went out to him. In that moment, he was no longer the man who bags groceries, he was a human being who really was doing his best, despite his struggles. In that moment, he reminded me of myself.
When my compliments about his bagging skills fell on deaf ears, I simply said, Sometimes, I get anxious, and I feel as if I am paralyzed, too. When I feel like that, I do the best that I can, just like you, and it eventually gets better. That got his attention, as he smiled a bit and thanked me.
As I drove home, I could not stop thinking about him, and I felt a lump in my throat. As I unloaded my groceries and put them away, I continued to think about my interaction with the bagger. I do not know what challenges him, but I do know what it is like to fight invisible battles. I also know what it is like to have to use every bit of inner strength to do my best when I feel my absolute worst.
This brief encounter reminded me that we all have challenges, whether they be physical, emotional, and/or mental, and through it all, we all strive to do our best, even if it may not appear that way. Sometimes, our best is enough, and other times, it is a work in progress. No matter where we are on the continuum, we all need to treat each other with kindness and patience.
From now on, whenever this particular gentleman is working at the grocery store, you can bet that I will choose his line. Every single time. It is the right line indeed.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story