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In Our Own Backyard....Resolve to be kind

It was a couple of weeks before Christmas when I noticed something didn't seem quite right. I, like most everyone else, was spending most of my spare time combing the malls and department stores to complete the last of my Christmas errands.

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It was a couple of weeks before Christmas when I noticed something didn't seem quite right. I, like most everyone else, was spending most of my spare time combing the malls and department stores to complete the last of my Christmas errands.

One day, I headed into town with a list a mile long - wool socks for stocking stuffers for the family, the latest mystery novel for my mom, a bag of pecans to make one last batch of Mexican Wedding Cakes, a gift card at the gas station to give my traveling son and a boatload of groceries to buy for our holiday meal. To top it all off, I'd made an appointment to get my hair cut right in the middle of it all, and I had two big boxes to send off to our daughters and their families on the East Coast in time for Christmas.

I started out feeling organized, focused, and ready to take on the world. But when I discovered the stock of wool socks had been pared down to only sizes small and medium, and the gas station where I was going to buy the gift card didn't have stations in the west where my son lives, I began to feel a little buzz of anxiety.

A last-minute stop at the post office, which resulted in a very long wait in line, made me 10 minutes late for my haircut appointment. By the time I got to the grocery store, the day had somehow managed to slip away, it was nearing dark, and I hadn't even thought about what I was going to make for dinner that night.

As I looked around me at the bustling crowds, I realized that everyone seemed to be pretty grim and distracted, and I wondered how all of us had managed to let the pace of the season get the best of us.

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I was at the grocery store, my cart loaded with groceries and -as I waited somewhat impatiently in line - I found myself wondering just how often any of us truly thinks about how the store clerks are feeling in the midst of all of the holiday bustle. I recalled how, as a young college student, I worked at my hometown drug store over the holiday break one year to earn a little extra cash. As luck would have it, I was slated to work the afternoon of Christmas Eve, and the store manager told the staff we would be expected to work right up until the last customer left - no matter how long it took. I suppose I was feeling sorry for myself because when a man came in the store late in the afternoon, bought a basketball and asked me to gift wrap it (a basketball, of all things!), I wanted to throw it back in his face and say, "Just how do you expect me to get home and celebrate with my own family when people like you come in late and want me to wrap a basketball?" Of course, I did nothing of the sort, but it did make me realize that everyone has their own story to tell.

As I stepped up to the cashier in the grocery store checkout, she handed the receipt to the customer ahead of me and then automatically put her head down and began scanning my groceries.

"Hello, how are you...." she said in that impersonal monotone that told me she'd said the exact same thing a thousand times that day. I gave the expected, "Fine, how are you...."response, but somehow it suddenly seemed so meaningless.

I looked up at the tired-looking cashier and said, "How's your day going so far?" She raised her head from the groceries she was scanning, looked me right in the eye, and then hesitated before replying, "It's been non-stop customers ever since I came on at 11 a.m., and I'm wondering if I'm going to get off in time to go to my grandson's Christmas program." Just one brief statement, but it spoke volumes about what was going on in her world that day.

I had one last stop at the discount store, and I decided to give it another try. The store was packed with shoppers and the lines were long. When I finally made my way up to the cashier, she simply started scanning my items without saying a word.

"How's your day going so far?" I asked.

Once again came the hesitation. She was just scanning a Christmas pillow with a Scottish terrier design on it, and she replied, "I was just looking at this and remembering that I had a stuffed Scotty dog that I got for Christmas one year. He kept me company the whole time I was in the hospital." I asked her how long she was there, and she replied, "Nearly two years." When I asked if it was recent, she said it was back in the '50s - and I realized that somehow this Christmas season must have triggered thoughts of her childhood....

I mentally made a note to myself to take the time to say something nice to other people whenever I get the chance. In fact, I've decided to make it my New Year's resolution. With all of the terrible things going on in the world these days, it seems that if each of us took the time to do actually talk to someone else - even if it simply means listening to how their day is going - we will have done something good.

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How's your day going so far?

Wendy Johnson

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