On a mission to expedite Saturday errands, my husband and I were at a big box store as the doors opened. Ten minutes later we headed toward checkout when a cashier, standing in front of her empty lane, motioned us over with morning cheerfulness. She offered a bit of friendly chit-chat while processing our items. Overall, it was a pleasant shopping experience: fast – efficient – friendly.
But that changed as a man approached the line. With a place for your cart and a place to pay, the man inadvertently put his cart in the wrong lane. As he did, the friendly cashier with a smile, welcomed the man and asked him to please put his cart through on her side.
A not-for-publication expletive came from his mouth, as he strongly pushed the cart in her direction, hitting her from behind. There was a collective pause. She looked at him, we looked at him, other customers and employees looked at him. What seemed long, but in reality was a few seconds, was the waiting to see if this was going to escalate into an explosive incident.
It didn’t. Obviously angry at the world, or life, or something, he’d reacted quite inappropriately to a minor request. I doubt he intended to hit her with his cart; perhaps that error in judgment caused him to step back a bit. I’ll never know, but what I do know is this: for a few seconds, I wasn’t the only person watching to see what he was trying to pull out of his pocket. The cashier and I looked at each other with relief when we saw it was a wallet.
Unfortunately, the unprovoked violence in recent years has made what used to be viewed as someone “just being a jerk,” now potentially more. It’s sad commentary on our changing times that I even had the thought – “is he a threat?” – while standing in that line. Are we looking at each other differently, wondering about each other? Or as John Steinbeck put in it Of Mice and Men, “Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”
Maybe. But, before we go to that extreme, I hope we stop and realize we’ve all been there. An argument with a family member or a morning gone awry coupled with exhaustion or life-happens stress, and we could overreact, too, if someone cut us off in traffic, or took a parking place before us, or made some remark. Like that man, we can all be momentary jerks.
With so many headlines that sadden and caution us about each other, I still believe, in the scheme of things, most people are good people. As I think about that man having a bad day, I’m reminded of Mother Teresa’s words, “If you judge people, you don’t have time to love them.”
Maybe we need to step back from our instant judgments about each other, and remember the good stories about the wonderful people who fill our communities. Maybe we can counter our growing fear of each other with some real-world perspectives about the vast majority of us, and find a little more brotherly-sisterly societal love along the way.