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Taking the Time to Care

Added by Holger Bergner on August 18, 2013. · No Comments · Share this Post

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Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Photopin, CC

By Chelsey Dooley

I don’t know how she did it, but the cashier’s eyes peered right into mine. I’d been discovered. I had tried to avoid eye contact as I was finishing the grocery shopping. More embarrassing than being seen in public coping with a rare meltdown would be someone discovering the “nothing to cry about” interaction that had triggered it.

I was holding it together—as long as I didn’t have to talk. My husband tried to phone me, but I couldn’t respond. It would have been messy (and noisy) if I attempted to communicate anything at all.

Then it was my turn at the checkout. I knew from past experience that in this store the cashiers work like automatons, processing items in a jiffy. That was fine by me. I was ready for the speedy processing and looked forward to getting out of there as soon as possible—before I let it all out.

Then she had to ask me, “How’s it going?” And it wasn’t a casual don’t-care-what-you-say greeting. She actually wanted an answer.

“It’s nothing, nothing…” I tried to say, wanting to just get on with it. But for the first time ever—I mean ever, in that store—the kind woman cashier wouldn’t touch a single item of my shopping waiting to be scanned until I told her what that problem was.

Yes, there were people in line waiting, and her skill at her job was no doubt being monitored. But I was made to feel more important than everything else. I was shocked. Somehow it cushioned the embarrassment I would have felt blubbering about it.

If I could have said something like, “I found out I have breast cancer” or “My best friend died,” I would have felt justified in raking in as much sympathy as possible. But I knew that sharing what had actually happened just wouldn’t have the same pathos. Yet I got the impression that this woman who cared enough to sincerely ask how I was doing was going to treat me with compassion, no matter what in the world I was sniveling about—just because I was important to her.

Seeing I wasn’t going to get out of it, I responded briefly, “I kept someone waiting in line at another store, and she made a big deal of it!”

My day had started at 3 am, when my baby woke and couldn’t fall back asleep, and the tiredness and stress had coalesced at the wrong time and place!

First, it turned out that I shouldn’t have been in the express line, because I had miscalculated the number of items in my basket and ended up with several more than the limit. Then when it was time to pay, I went blank and couldn’t remember my PIN number! The next lady in line wouldn’t let up and began verbally harassing me. Meanwhile, the cashier continued her patient reminders that, “You just need to enter your PIN, Ma’am.”

I found out that there is something more stressful than being late and having a customer in front of you hold up the line—that is being that customer! I finally stepped aside for a moment to pray, and thankfully, the number came back to me. After apologizing to the lady behind me—whose response was cold and unforgiving—I quietly left, tearing up.

The contrast between what happened in that checkout lane and in the second shop was stark. After I had experienced being misunderstood, unforgiven, pressured, put under stress, treated as though I was the root of the world’s problems, this woman made me feel important and cared for, worth more than time or money. The kind lady even ran off to get me a handful of tissues. All embarrassment was covered in a warm blanket of care.

The world doesn’t usually pause because I have a tear to shed, and it felt good when it did! I was reminded how important love is, and how painful and hurtful it can be when we are so focused on what we have to do that we neglect to make those around us feel important.

* * *

During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank.

Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. “Absolutely,” the professor said. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.” I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned our cleaner’s name was Dorothy.

—Joann C. Jones

Photo credit: Thomas Hawk via Photopin, CC

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