Sunday evenings often provide me with encounters that other days don’t. I’m not sure why that is.
I was out and about, buying mismatched birthday/get-well/occasion balloons, a flutophone, spatula (all of which are of course traditional birthday surprises), and various ridiculous things for a belated work birthday shenanigan. A woman was at the register. She had only two dollars. “I’ll pay for the rest with my credit card.” She sweated a bit, waiting to see if it would be authorized. The clerk wasn’t the most sympathetic. He radiated irritation. The woman hid her embarrassment well but I watched her body language as she cringed at the treatment. It took her two tries to get it to go through.
Although I had entered with a light heart and a bit of joy due to being creative in trying to let someone know we hadn’t forgotten them, I have to admit a bitter flare of anger lit me up. I could feel it behind my eyes. I flicked my wrist and saw that my heartbeat had elevated considerably on my Fitbit. I wanted to shout at the clerk but then I reminded myself that I have a superpower that all of us have if I could just stop judging. Even the few one-on-one rapid self-defense sessions I had reinforced the idea that we owe it to each other to disengage before we act.
“Hey Janice,” I said loudly to the woman as she got her bag, a little red-faced. “Wait a second. I have that money I owe you.” Her name wasn’t Janice, but she stopped and turned. I held up a finger to ask her to give me a minute to check out. She was just confused enough to wait.
“Merry Christmas, sir,” I told the young male clerk.
“Yeah, ok.” He seemed unhappy. He looked at his watch.
“Are you having a rough day?” I asked him, smiling.
“You have no idea,” he said.
“What can I do to make it even a little better?” I asked.
“Let me go home. My girlfriend texted me and told me she was putting my stuff outside if I didn’t come home soon.”
That stopped me cold for a second. I was surprised by his honesty.
“I don’t know what you’re going through but I can see you’re stressed. I would be too. Take a minute and call her, don’t text, even if your manager doesn’t want you to. Tell your girlfriend you love her and you will talk to her when you get home. Trust me.”
“Just like that?” He asked.
“Yes, just like that. Assuming you do love her, she will give you a couple of hours to come home and work it out. And if she doesn’t, it wasn’t going to matter what you did now or not. If that happens, I am so sorry.”
He looked at me like I had burst into flames.
“Okay, thanks. I’ll try anything.”
“Would you do me a favor as a kindness?”
“Yes,” he said.
I softened my voice and leaned in: “Tell my friend Janice there that you are sorry for snapping at her and wish her a Merry Christmas.”
He did. Janice listened, stunned, as the clerk said, “I’m so sorry. I’m stressed. Please have a Merry Christmas, Janice.”
Janice smiled, still a bit confused by it all, but happy the clerk had acknowledged his rudeness. “Merry Christmas to you too,” she replied, her voice cracking a little.
I nodded at the clerk and smiled. “I wish you the best. Now go call your girlfriend and let her know how much you need her. Everyone needs to hear it.”
I grabbed my handful of bags and bundle of helium balloons.
I turned to Janice and pulled the ten-dollar bill out of my pocket and handed it to her. I’d been given the ten dollars to help buy a few goofy items for the birthday shenanigan. The person who gave it to me would have wanted it to go to Janice instead. Of that, I am certain.
“I know you’re not Janice. I just wanted the clerk to think we know each other. This is for whatever you need. It’s not a lot because I don’t have a lot.”
Janice took the bill from my hands as I balanced all the things I’d purchased.
“It’s okay. Don’t say anything. Just remember that sometimes the universe is listening, okay?” She nodded. I think she was a little choked up. I know I was.
I smiled and walked out of the store, my anger gone, and my thoughts filled with hope that the anonymous girlfriend was going to get a call to let her know she was loved. And that Janice forgot the embarrassment at the register and remembered only that someone wanted her to have a Merry Christmas.
P.S. I’m going to go wrap a flutophone and spatula. As we all agree, they are ideal birthday presents for someone who has everything.