When going through your everyday life—getting dressed, drinking coffee, shopping for groceries, going to work, or to a play date with your kids—you never know what or who you will encounter. Maybe it’s an old friend or colleague, or maybe a new friend, a kind stranger on an elevator, or an angry clerk? We want to live our lives in such a way that people can see our heart, and know we care about them. Yet, at times our own anger and frustration show. I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve been blunt, thoughtless and (unfortunately) rude when stressed. I know. Hard to believe, right? LOL. But shamefully true.
When under stress we are all prone to have a personality change. Like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Snicker’s candy bar commercial reminds us we aren’t ourselves when we are hungry. The same is true when we are stressed. That’s why it’s always important to try to see life from the perspective of others, to understand why they react as they do. I’ve a story to share that took me by surprise.
Standing in the checkout line at my local grocery, I watched the clerk, a woman with a scowl on her face, mumble under her breath as she threw groceries across the barcode reader and sent them slamming into each other at the other end. Wow! Talk about angry. I looked for another line to move to, but the other lines were longer. And I’d already waited so long in this line. I could at least see the checker now. I rolled my eyes at the older woman in line ahead of me. She smirked in agreement. This was not the way to treat customers, but we were stuck. After paying for his groceries, the customer at the register shook his head, grabbed the grocery bag from the sacker, and stormed out the door without a word. Next in line, the gray-haired woman in front of me snarled.
“I hope you don’t throw my groceries around and break my eggs.”
The checker stared at her then gently took the eggs in an exaggerated effort and rolled the carton in a paper bag, which she then placed into a plastic bag. She left the register and walked the eggs to the woman’s waiting basket. “Happy?” she asked.
Silently, the customer adjusted the purse on her shoulder and huffed.
The clerk proceeded to toss every other item vehemently across the barcode reader and down the conveyor. Wide-eyed, the woman paid for her groceries and complained to the sacker that she didn’t know if she’d be back with such rude staff. The boy scrunched his face and shrugged his shoulders.
“Need me to take these to your car?”
The gray-haired woman grabbed the wrapped eggs out of the basket. “Yes,” she said, heading for the door and leaving the young man to follow.
I gulped. My turn. As I approached the clerk, she held one hand to her head and stared at the register. Without looking at me, she began to process my order in the same haphazard manner as the two people before me.
“Do you not like your job?” I finally asked.
“Of course, I do,” she snapped back, tossing another can of corn across the reader.
“Then you must be having a really bad day today.”
The checker watched the can of corn roll away from her and collide with a jar of pickles. We both held our breath. Whew, it didn’t break. She looked back at me. Tears filled her eyes.
“I am having a bad day,” she whispered.
She sniffed and stopped slamming my groceries across the reader. I expected an exaggerated, “Happy?” like she’d given the lady with the eggs, but she never said anything. Tears began to stream down her face as she worked, and I had to ask if she were ok.
She stopped checking and glanced behind me. The other customers had opted for another line. She gave a sad smile and sighed. “I’m the one who should say I’m sorry. It’s just that I have already worked my shift without a break and the manager just told me I have to stay another two hours. My grandfather died last week, and my mom has cancer and is in the hospital, and now I have to find someone to watch my eight-year-old after school.” She wiped her face and glanced around to see if anyone was looking. “I can’t afford to lose my job,” she said and continued to scan the rest of my groceries at a civil pace.
As no one stood in line behind me, I leaned across the counter, took the Closed sign off the side of her register and placed it on the conveyor belt behind me. The clerk again surveyed the area.
“You won’t be able to keep your job if you keep upsetting customers. Besides, you need a break. Ring me up and go call your family and friends and find a sitter for the next two hours.”
I paid for my groceries, then she called the floor supervisor and requested a break. While she made phone calls in a booth at the deli, I picked up a sandwich and chips, which I left at her table. I was rewarded with a smile that lit up her face.
“Thank you.” She stood and hugged me. “My neighbor is going to let Tiffany come over for a few hours until I can a get home. I’m better now.”
“I’m glad. I’ll be praying for you and your mom,” I said reaching for my grocery basket. “I hope your next few hours are better than the last.”
That scenario taught me a lesson in judging. When someone is angry, there is a reason. Maybe all they need is a kind word, like a sweet candy, to calm them down. Proverbs 15:1 says: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Have you ever encountered an angry clerk? Or a puffed-up bus driver? How did you handle it? Have you witnessed how someone else handled the situation? We’d love to hear your story.
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