If Your Name Is Patience Or Grace, Why Don’t You Have Any?

by florence ondré

In the oppressive heat of a hazy, hot and humid day in July, it’s hard enough for a person to get around, accomplish the day’s duties and still keep one’s wits and reflexes above functioning level.  Add to this recipe, a physical handicap, the lateness of the day or merely age and the human machine slows, glitches and/or crawls to a halt.

I believe most of us are aware enough to know this from probable first hand experience.  So, why is it that awareness and sensitivity take leave of the human experience at the checkout counter in a supermarket?

Firstly, what is so super about our food markets today?  The experience of shopping for our daily sustenance is hardly pleasurable.  Employees can be rude or ill informed; prices inaccurate and many cashiers could care less whether it’s important to you that your hard earned money stretch as far as possible or that your food be in good condition- i.e. grapes on top of canned goods and bread uncrushed when bagged.  Mostly, now it’s fast zip your groceries down the ramp for a meet and greet with metal armed hangers of plastic bags which you are expected to pack yourself.

“Express line” generally means smaller orders of fewer items to be expeditious to shoppers but to those behind the register it’s more of a “get out of my face fast and don’t ask any questions!” as in: ‘have no needs of your own.’   God forbid, you have the audacity to ask them to bag the stuff or to ask for for a double of those flimsy, chemical smelling sacks so your jars of marinara sauce don’t crash, and slash; sending you to the nearest emergency facility!

Any condition that might slow one up aggravates rather than engenders any compassion and seems to give register ringers a target for whatever pent up hostilities are lurking beneath their badges.

I experienced “The Shopping Trip From Hell” on one of these steamy July days when I had the chutzpah to take myself with my Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome to the ‘super’- sometimes referred to as ‘stupid’- market.

Having schlepped my tired self through the aisles, trudging behind my wobbly-wheeled basket, I placed my 6 items on the conveyor belt to the cash register on the ‘Express Line’ designated ’10 items or less.’  Feeling rather safe in doing so, I was shaken and appalled as I heard and saw the demeanor of the checkout clerk, whose name tag read, ‘Patience.’   She was anything but!

A grey haired woman stooped in front of me, was getting a tongue lashing about the number of items she’d placed for checkout-11!  Her hands which formerly may have cared for a home and children, created art or capably closed deals in a chosen profession, today clearly shook as she meekly apologized and tried to give the right amount of money for her tallied food bill.  In addition, she asked in measured speech for an explanation of the charges to make sure her receipt was correct.

The curtness and hostility of the cashier was overt and there was no mistaking the aggression of the loud, large, young woman at the register toward the small, quiet, elderly one who moved a few steps, struggling to get her change into her wallet, while her grocery bag was thrown harshly to the end of the checkout ramp by ‘commandant clerk.’

Then it was my turn!

As Patience totted up my purchases at the speed of light, I found myself aghast at not being able to find the cash that I had just gotten from the bank.  I searched my purse 3 times through every pocket, nook and cranny; knowing I had placed the bills there, yet fearing I might have either misplaced them or been robbed.

Inside, I had a sick, sinking feeling that I get when Chronic Fatigue cognitive block happens.  I know it mercifully passes but I also know increases with added stress, and here I am; face to face with ‘She Whose Name Is Patience!’

“Jaws” music begins to play in my head as she glowers at me for being less than perfect and lightning fast on Her Express LIne!

I begin to feel not so much slow and inept, but rather one who has committed a mortal sin.  She grouses loudly and instigates insurrection on the line behind me which now seems not to be just 2 men and 2 women, but an angry lynch mob of 400!

“O.K., Calm down,” I tell myself silently.  The bill is 14 dollars and 53 cents and,  Whew!  Thank God!  There’s the 50 dollar bill I put in my purse, right next to a 5!

I sigh with relief.  I haven’t been robbed.  CFIDS brain fog hasn’t caused me to mislay my money AND I say triumphantly to Clerk Mengele, “Here’s $50 and I have  the 3 pennies!”

Snarling, she snatches the bill, slams her cash drawer shut like a jail cell; loudly informing me that she ‘will not take my 3 cents’ and shoves the denominations of change, which she deems suitable punishment, into my hand.

I have no more rights for committing the crime of ‘slowness.’

When I say, quietly but firmly, “No, that’s not acceptable,” she imperiously barks, “You’ve taken up too much time!”

Standing firm on the outside but shaken on the inside, I ask to see a manager; even though the larger of the men in line behind me has become belligerent and is siding with the clerk to intimidate me.  Clearly, he would like to do her executioner’s work and if the guillotine were at the end of the bag ramp, my head would be in a basket with melons, to the delight of the onlookers!

I refuse to be cowed.  She glares at me with the intensity of a flamethrower.  I feel napalmed in New York.  I’m a stone-statue-still gunslinger at the O.K. Corral standoff til she finally calls.

The manager, a woman of small physical stature, shows up. hears my complaint of rudeness and ill treatment this clerk has dished out to me and the preceding customer.  She says nothing as I tell her that everyone, including senior, handicapped and slow people, all deserve to be treated courteously when shopping and spending their money in that store.

From the looks she sneaks at pistol packin’ Patience, I can see she will do nothing.  There’s not so much as an, “I’m sorry for your trouble.”

No amends will be forthcoming.

I notice her name tag reads, “Grace,” and what I see on her face is fear and dullness.  All in all, I’m sick to my stomach and I know it’s not from the heat!

Returning home with a lump of anger in my throat, I woodenly put away my groceries, which now seemed tainted with negative energy.  I slump exhaustedly on the safety of my comfy couch; an island of friendly, floral print in a world of khaki conflict.  A knot of hopelessness mixed in with a healthier dollop of defiance in my gut moves me to grab notebook and pen as the following declaration of dignity emerges:

I, hereby, put every cash register clinking checker,  or anyone in service positions, on notice to remember and, better yet, write this down and place it clearly where you will see it every day of your life:

THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO I.

This means you and every blessed one of us on this planet!

No matter your job, any person who comes before you who is ‘slow’ is your opportunity to become still and practice compassionate patience.

Every person who asks you a question is your opportunity to practice tolerance and generosity of spirit, wherein you can be helpful in sharing your knowledge with others.

Those who shuffle before you with infirmity or age are your opportunity to treat others with the same kindness and respect you would like to receive when you are in similar circumstances.  They may be the mirror image of your future and deserve your admiration for their courage, willingness and commitment to show in the world; attempting to be as self reliant as possible.

These people, ( and remember, you are these people; if not now, later) need your help not your hostility.

O.K., so you got in the right letter of the alphabet.  Try harder.  You can do better.  Get the right word, the right attitude.  I have faith in you.  You can do it!

Anyone who vexes you is your opportunity to grow; to be the best you can be instead of the worst or most mediocre.  This is your chance to notice differences and samenesses of humans; to value everyone just the way you want to be valued and appreciated.  There’s no exact time allotment for getting ‘it’ right.  What is ‘it’ anyway and by whose timeline or definitions are we living?

I know that, even with this day; this experience of mine, I will not die of terminal uniqueness and, still, I feel strongly moved to speak out for all the times any of us has said or felt, “Why bother? No one cares anyway?”

Well, I do care.  I want everyday experiences to be peaceful, harmonious, gentle and interactions respectful of each other.  I believe kindness counts.  How much extra time does that take?

Call writing this my random act of kindness for all who can’t speak up or out.  I encourage everyone to say ‘NO’ to unfair, unkind treatment- one’s own or another’s; to courageously say, “I deserve to be treated courteously and compassionately.  We all do.”

And then, perhaps the market will be ‘super!’

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