“Kindness is the language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” -Mark Twain
There was really no reason to hurry.
Standing in the check-out line at Safeway, a supermarket in the northwest, I was gung-ho and ready to charge on to the next identified task. Time is a metaphorical stacking game and every crevice capable of holding one more accomplishment. This particular afternoon, I was able to cross things off of my to-do list in a faster than expected time with the hope that I can take a few moments to sit and relax at the end of my day.
Until this one stop.
There was to be no charging. Not even a crawl. The employee for my check out lane was struggling as she scanned each item numerous times until the barcode finally registered. Judging by the amount of items on the conveyor belt, this would take a while.
I wasn’t the only one frustrated. My inner monologue was mirrored by the murmurings behind me.
“Did we pick the wrong line.”
“She is so slow.”
“Why did Safeway even hire her?”
I found myself in complete agreement with the commentary. Did she have any idea how she was screwing up my afternoon, let alone those behind me?
My inner seething and anger were momentarily interrupted by something that caught my eye: her name badge.
She had a name.
She wasn’t just “that person” screwing up my day.
She had a name.
That name badge asked me a question. When did people become a means to my own end? My agenda? My self-imposed timeline?
The potential danger and temptation of not only a consumerist society but of living with other humans is to consider people disposable commodities for our own kingdoms. Whether it be retail, restaurants, coffee houses, driving, or co-workers, what do we truly believe about those who surround us? Does everyone exist to serve me? Is that what it means to be human?
Years ago, one of my pastoral mentors noted how wonderful it was that you can now print stamps at home but that he will never use this service. Why? Because he discovered a deep joy in every interaction with another person. Every conversation, including those at the Post Office, was an invitation to positively contribute to another person, albeit a friendly greeting, smile, or simple inquiry about their day.
As we dive into the depths of the 21st century, we continue to create conveniences that keep us from leaving our front door. We can shop, work, be entertained, and connect with friends all from the comforts of our home. But what have we tacitly traded? If my mentor was right, and deep joy can be found in the interactions with another, are we complicity denying our soul for what we think is a more attractive life? Are we sabotaging the possibility of a deeper life by focusing on what we can receive from others rather than what we can contribute? Are we missing a key ingredient to living and replacing it with an enticing but ultimately disappointing substitute?
The customer in front of me wheeled her cart away as my pithy items were called forward on the belt. Guilt showered over me. I knew nothing about her. Why, at her advanced age, she still needed to work a minimum wage job. Or why her computer was giving her such trouble. Maybe out of guilt, maybe motivated by something deeper, I knew there was only one gift I could give her at that moment.
I looked up.
“Hi Sara. How is your day going?”