I feel as if I've been away for weeks. Sickness struck us, and I'm still blowing my nose and listening to my son cough. We survived, though.
During the hubbub of sickness combined with Thanksgiving preparations, I recently found myself waiting to check out at the nearby Giant Eagle store. Busy shoppers were pushing carts around the store, looking frantic, checking lists and store flyers and then plowing forward. I stood in a self-checkout line behind a tall, willowy blonde woman with a rather low-cut shirt on.
I didn't notice the shirt at first; I was looking at her cute little boy, maybe 18 months old, who sat in the front of the cart but tried more than once to stand until the woman instructed him to sit. "No, no, sit," she said. while she tried to unload items from her cart onto the belt.
I watched this exchange, thinking that she ought not to wear such a low-cut shirt to the grocery store, thinking that 13 years from now, all her son's friends might want to gather at his house in hopes of getting a glimpse of cleavage. I mentally shook my head at her (I'm not a nice person, really—I know this—and I admit without hesitation that I most definitely need a savior so I have a chance), and I thought about changing lines. I always change lines—it's an impatient behavior that I firmly believe is inherited—and for that moment, I was contemplating switching lanes. Perhaps I could skip over to the 15-items-or-less line, and I could drop in behind that old lady and zip right through...
And then another woman pulled in behind me. Oh golly. Now I was kind of stuck, unless I was willing to ask the new woman to move. (I wasn't.) And I felt, too, an inexplicable urge to just stay put. It was fine. Stop being so rushed all the time, the urge said. The little boy in the cart was trying to climb out again, and this time the woman spoke to him in a foreign tongue. I'm terrible with languages, so I'm not certain which language it was: Swedish? Norwegian? German? Are those all Germanic? Oh, I should have paid more attention in linguistics!!! I felt a twinge of annoyance, partly at myself (because I couldn't begin to identify the tongue) and partly at this slim, pretty, blonde creature in her low blouse with her darling boy who reminded me of my darling boy. The one who spends his days in school now. Sigh.
I looked at Ms. Low-cut, and the urge to stay put in line became a voice. Why don't you help her out? said the voice.
Me: What? Her? Low-cut?
Voice: Yes, of course.
Me: What if I insult her? She's foreign! What if she gets mad at me and starts swearing at me in another language?
Voice: Then let her. So what? At least you will have tried. Everyone in this store is in a hurry, but you all stand here watching people struggle. How pointless is that?
Me: Yeah, but, but... Oh. Okay.
And then, with my face feeling a bit warm and uncomfortable, I asked her (I had to speak twice because she didn't hear me the first time): "Excuse me, could I bag those for you?"
She looked at me, doubtful, a bit surprised, but after a pause she replied, "If you don't mind, that would be great." Slight accent, but clear English. I had no trouble understanding her.
I slipped past her and began putting things in bags, then into her cart. The little boy watched me with big eyes, not smiling but not unfriendly either. She commented that he was a busy little boy who could not sit still for long, and I agreed that kids get bored when shopping. I shared that I was missing my little guy, who was in kindergarten now; I couldn't believe how quickly it had gone. She agreed; she had two older girls, and she understood quite well that the years flew by. She scanned, I bagged, we chatted, and it was such a better use of my time than standing behind her judging her. At one point it crossed my mind that my purse and wallet were sitting back in my own cart, and that the woman behind me in line had overheard the entire exchange and could right now be casually sneaking her hand into my giant bag and stealing my identity. That would be just the sort of thing that would happen, right when you're trying to do a good deed, right?
But it didn't happen. No one stole my identity. No one swore at me in another language. In fact, we got the order checked out much faster and she thanked me as she left. And that was that.
Why have I never done this before? Why do I feel more comfortable standing around huffing at someone and thinking unkind thoughts than I do offering to help them? We're all in this together. I doubt I'd be moved to help every shopper, because some of them are downright inconsiderate and obnoxious. But honestly? I should probably try to help them, too. I never know what battle they're fighting, right?
I'm going to try to remember how much better it felt to reach out to someone instead of condemning them behind folded arms. I'll need to hold onto that feeling, that desire to serve, as I move through this holiday season. I'll have to remind myself daily that each one of us needs grace every morning.
And sometimes, that grace is delivered in an unexpected way.