Lessons in the Check-Out Line


Do you have times like I do when you just don’t feel like shopping for groceries? Occasionally my husband will offer to drive me to the store to encourage me. (Sometimes he has hidden motives, like being out of his favorite snack or having a sudden craving for a frozen treat.)

Though David usually remains in the car with his Kindle or his  I-phone, one day he came into the store after he parked the car to “help me shop” (which most often means we end up with a lot of “not-on-the- grocery-list” items in the cart). I didn’t realize he had entered the store and was startled when he dropped something into my shopping cart.

David had been following me around for a while to see how long it would take me to notice him. I don’t normally pay attention to other shoppers in the grocery store, unless they make noise – children throwing tantrums, frustrated moms trying to keep their kids from grabbing things off the shelves, someone talking loudly on his cell phone.

My husband pointed out that someone could be stalking me and I would not know it. (I pictured the headline, “Grocery Store Stalker Strikes Again in the Produce Aisle”.)  Anyway, I am beginning to notice people near me in a store now – particularly the people in the check-out line.

Recently, I was shopping at a grocery store located in our vacation spot and chose the one check-out line that was not “self-check”. There was a woman in front of me with a large cart-full who offered to let me precede her through the line since I had fewer items in my cart. At that moment I remembered an item that was not in my cart, so declined her offer, wheeling my cart to the laundry soap aisle.

As I returned to the check-out line, a woman slipped in just ahead of me who had a cart-full. Not only did she not offer to let me go first, but she remembered an item that was not in her cart and left her cart in line to go find the item. She returned to the line with two different flavors of yogurt and proceeded to call someone to ask which flavor the person preferred. She then placed some of her grocery items on the conveyer belt and slipped out of line to return the unwanted flavor. By this time there were two more customers behind me.

The woman returned to her cart, still talking on her cell phone and thought of yet another item she needed. She again left the check-out line, phone still at ear, without saying so much as a “please excuse me for my rudeness”. She returned with her item, and though I felt a sudden urge to trip her, I politely moved aside to allow her to finish unloading her cart.

At about that time a friend of “Ms.my-time-is-more-important-than-anyone’s-else-in-this-line”, who was the fourth customer behind me in the line, called out to ask what was planned for the kids for dinner. To which question the self-absorbed shopper responded, “Let’s do macaroni and cheese. Could you get a box of noodles for me – and a package of flour?”

The cashier had a befuddled look on her face, but said nothing. There was also an incredulous expression on the faces of the couple behind me who were hand-carrying a few items but were now trapped in this forever-check-out line. I was thinking “Is this really happening? And why doesn’t anyone say anything – including, me?”

When the unbelievably thoughtless customer finally departed the check-out counter the clerk said, “I’ve never had a customer like that. I didn’t know what to do.” I shrugged my shoulders and smiled, not letting on what I had felt like doing.

When I later shared this encounter with my husband, his response was, “I would have asked, ‘Lady, what are you doing? Can’t you see this line of customers waiting behind you? But I would say it in a nice way.”

Which reminds me of a quote in Colin Powell’s book, It Worked for Me: the quote was from a Sunday message by an elderly priest in an Episcopal church that Powell attended. The priest concluded his message with this exhortation: “Always show more kindness than seems necessary, because the person receiving it needs it more than you will ever know.”

This caused me to wonder about the woman in the grocery store check-out line; maybe she’s not usually rude or inconsiderate. Maybe she just had a bad day and was expecting a crowd of people that night. Maybe she left a 5-year old home alone with a 10-year old sister and knew she needed to get back ASAP. But even if she didn’t have an excuse for her lack of consideration, maybe she needed “more kindness than necessary” in her life to help her to see how it works.

Knowing that nothing in my life happens without purpose, maybe it all happened for me, to put the final blush on some spiritual fruit in my life. We all need to be reminded of the following verse:

Phil. 2:3-4 “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Maybe God is saying to all of us through the difficult people in our lives, “Show more kindness than seems necessary, because the person receiving it may need it more than you will ever know.”

©2012, Marcy Alves

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About Marcy

I love my Father-God. Together we are walking through a season of my life where I am standing with him against cancer. He is my strength and trust. As one of his daughters, my passion is to share his love with others in practical, everyday illustrations and insights.

Posted on May 27, 2012, in Follow Me, God Encounters, My Journey, Reflections and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great post. Humorous too. I like the way you handled the situation. Very happy that you didn’t confront her the way I would have–even though I would have been gentle about it.

    Perhaps I’m seeing what “the final blush” is that I need on some spiritual fruit. Next time I’m in a similar situation, I think I’ll give YOUR way a try. She probably needed kindness more than a lesson from David.

    Keep writing. I’m your biggest “fan.” And a most faithful reader.

  2. I think the greater lesson here is that you and everyone else in line, and the checker, all kept silent and did not say what you might have been thinking. Though the temptation to confront was present, you kept your peace. By your action you kept the Golden Rule, which is unconditional and to be applied in all situations. You showed a high level of kindness and patience by carrying the burden of the woman’s inconsiderate actions.

    Also, it is often the case that a well-meaning, good-hearted, and gentle confrontation goes bad due to the nature of the people we sometimes must deal with.

    Thanks for the post and insightful comment.

  1. Pingback: Please stop trying to hurry me along « braininjuryselfrehabilitation

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