Friday, March 23, 2012

Caution....and Kindness

On my way to work every morning, I pass a house located on a corner prone to flooding after heavy rain. I've noticed it's for sale.  I have so much empathy for those owners!  I know they must pray for dry weather when a potential buyer comes by, because they know if their yard is flooded, no one will touch their house with 10-foot pole.  Their yard is indeed dry 95% of the time, but that other 5% - well, it's a mess.  Of course, from the viewpoint of the buyer, one does have to check into these kinds of things.  The experts tells us that it is ideal to see a property in all kinds of weather and seasons before you sign that contract.  At this specific house, a beautiful dry day in summer looks vastly different from a spring day after a storm has moved through.

On the other hand, maybe it's the opposite with relationships.  Here, you aren't trying to make a huge financial investment and want your risks minimized; you are just encountering fellow human beings on good days and bad.  On my way home from work, I usually stop in at the grocery or another shop for an errand.  Most of the cashiers and salespeople I interact with are cheerful and smiling, but occasionally I get a grumpy one.   My first reaction is to be apathetic or even irritable myself.   Then I started wondering, "Am I seeing a normally nice person on a bad day?"  Hmmm....maybe 95% of the year they are charming and the other 5%, for whatever reason, they are not at their best?  Of course, there are some people who are 100% grumpy - we all know them.  But it is unkind, I think, to automatically judge a stranger based on one interaction.   Did they get some bad news?  Are they worried about their kids?  Are they afraid of losing their jobs?  Going through a divorce?  Fighting an addiction?  Burying a parent?  Or - maybe they just have indigestion or diarrhea and find it intolerable to think about 6 more hours trying to be friendly?  There's no way to know, and we probably ought to let our good natures shine and give them the benefit of the doubt.

It all reminded me of an article my sister wrote once about Mom.  Here is an excerpt from her touching tribute:

She was always especially fond of store cashiers, perhaps because she was once one herself in an earlier life, a life that existed “before motherhood.”  I remember Mother’s encounter with a particularly challenging cashier once, a woman who at first appeared to be completely impervious to Mother’s friendly banter.  We were at the grocery store on a very busy day.  The line was long, and it inched forward ever so slowly.   It was a stressful environment, to say the least, and it obviously was taking a toll on the lady behind the register, too.  She said little, and when she did open her mouth, the words that came out were surly and borderline rude. 
“My goodness, it sure is busy today!” Mother said cheerily.  No response.  “That’s a really pretty necklace you’ve got on,” Mother went on.  A gruff “Mmm-hmm” emanated from the woman’s lips, but I could see that the tightly drawn corners of her mouth were beginning to soften.  “Honey, it must be awfully frustrating to do your job,” Mother cooed.  “I really don’t see how you do it.  You must be worn out by the end of the day.”   
That did it.  With tears in her eyes, the cashier turned to Mother and began to pour out her heart.  I stood there in amazement, watching while Mother listened intently to the woman’s tale of woe.  That was years ago, and now I don’t even remember what the lady said.  All I know is that Mother’s willing ear and caring heart allowed that cashier to unburden herself to a complete stranger.  And as I watched the two of them together, for the first time, I realized that Mother was more than just a hospitable giver.  She was also a recipient.  She found a deep joy and satisfaction in encouraging someone else, even if it was just by offering a glass of tea or an attentive ear. 
The exchange only lasted a few minutes.  Once the sacker had finished bagging the groceries, we paid the bill and Mother grasped the cashier’s hand with a sweet, “Honey, now don’t you work too hard!”  As we pushed our cart toward the exit, I turned back to see the woman standing a shade taller, her shoulders pulled back and her head held high.  She looked as if she couldn’t stop smiling.   
And neither could Mother.  

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