Homer Simpson’s favorite expression is now a staple response of our granddaughter Caroline - “D’OH!” Aren’t there times we all want to say that? I had one such experience this week.
I was buying some balloons for my supervisor’s birthday at a local grocery store on my way home from work. Ellsworth, Maine, is a small town compared to most cities, and we have only two supermarkets of comparable size. I passed the first one to get to the second one, which is where we usually shop. I bought several items first (including lemon sorbet), then wandered into the card section, where I knew they had a revolving rack with balloon packages. (You purchase your balloon, then after you check out, you go to the recycling room, where someone will inflate it for you.) I was amazed to find not one birthday balloon on the rack - at least one that didn’t say “30” or “40.” They had plenty of “Happy Retirement,” “Happy Graduation,” and “Baby Shower” balloons, but none that I could use. So I took my groceries to the register, trying to figure out where I could get my balloons.
As I said, Ellsworth is a small place. We used to have a Hallmark shop that sold balloons, but it closed. There was a new party store, but it was out of town on the highway in the other direction. So I queried the girl bagging my groceries.
“Is there a place around here I can get a balloon? Y’all seem to be out of birthday ones.” (I know she figured I was a tourist, since it’s that time of year and I was asking directions. Or maybe it was the “y’all.”) Anyway, she whispered, “You might try the competition,” referring to the only other supermarket in town. I was pleased to be reminded that the other store carried balloons in their florist section. Even though it was backtracking somewhat, it was my only other alternative, so I thanked her and headed out to the car and down the street to Shaw’s. Their florist department is right by the door, so I figured I could get in and out without much damage to the sorbet on what was a hot, sunny summer day.
At Shaw’s, there was only one customer in front of me in the process of getting her order. And it was a big one. She was getting about a dozen black balloons. Apparently the clerk keeps lengths of various colors of ribbon already cut and tied onto the little weight clips to speed up orders, but didn’t have black ribbons pre-made. So there he was, slowly cutting and tying each black ribbon, then slowly blowing up each black balloon, then slowly tying each black ribbon to the inflated balloon. I sighed. This was going to take a while. I thought of my lemon sorbet, probably slowly melting away in my car.
After a few minutes of this painstakingly slow process, the customer gestured to me and said to the clerk, “Maybe you should just go ahead and wait on this lady.”
Now, most people would have been ecstatic. Anyone else would have thought “How kind! How thoughtful! My luck has turned! I accept!” But not me. The first words out of my mouth were, “No, that’s OK. I’m in no hurry.”
NO HURRY? I had sorbet in my car, probably sitting in the sun to boot, Ed was expecting me home for dinner, and I said, “I’m in no hurry”? D’OH!
What was the matter with me? I’d been on the other end of this scenario countless times. I’m the world’s foremost “let them go ahead of me” customer. Anytime I have more than an armful of groceries and someone is behind me with a handful of items, I always offer to let them move up in front of me. Most of the time, they graciously accept. It always makes me feel good. It’s more blessed to give than to receive, isn’t it?
Or is it? I once read a folk tale about a beggar in India who was content with his lot in life and did not curse it, because his belief was this: He provided a service to the wealthy. For if indeed it is more blessed to give than receive, he gave them an opportunity for being blessed every time they gave him a coin. If the wealthy didn’t have a chance to give, they would be denied the blessing.
We have been so trained to believe that giving is the only blessing, when accepting someone else’s gift can be a blessing, too. Of course, it’s nice to be on the giving end. It makes you feel good, doesn’t it, to dispense whatever you have to give - time, money, talent, wisdom, maybe even something as little as a place in line? Who knows - maybe that balloon lady was relieved when I rejected her offer. But maybe, just maybe, she was a little disappointed at being denied the pleasure of giving.
Life is indeed a circle - we are all givers, and we are all receivers, and our positions change as much as the temperatures in Maine. I need to remember to accept whatever position I am offered at any given time with gratitude.