It Lightens the Heart

    “It Lightens the Heart,” Tambuli, Sept. 1990, 8

    It Lightens the Heart

    It was a hot, uncomfortable day, and the heat sapped both my strength and my patience. My job at the checkout counter at a grocery store was about to begin for the evening, and as I sat watching the minute hand of the clock ticking away, the soft, cool air in the store did not make me feel better. Ten more minutes, I thought, and I need to be ready to get to work.

    My thoughts were interrupted by the store manager calling over the loud-speaker system, “Kathleen, come to the courtesy booth!”

    As I approached the front of the store, a customer asked me where the flour was. I pointed her in the right direction with a smile, but my mind was still grumpy. Lady, let me have five more minutes to myself. Generally, I enjoyed seeing and talking to the customers. They make my job enjoyable—on days I didn’t feel on edge. I could see this was going to be a long evening.

    At the courtesy booth, I received the money for my cash register, checked it, and was assigned to the express check stand lane.

    Oh, dear! I disliked that check stand. It was meant for customers with eight grocery items or less, but someone was always trying to get by with more than eight items or taking too long to write out a check. What a night this will be!

    I was so engrossed in my thoughts that I could hardly smile. I’d worked with the public for years—smile, say hello—even when I didn’t feel like it. One almost has to be an actress in this business.

    As the night wore on and the customers came and went, my mood began to get better. I thought I might survive the evening. Just then, I saw old Mr. Smith shuffle through the line. “Hello, Mr. Smith. How are you?” I managed to say pleasantly. I was even able to smile at him and almost be sincere. He proceeded to tell me how he was as he fumbled to get his wallet out of his back pocket and I entered the price of his purchases on the cash register.

    Come on, I thought. This is taking too long! I told him I hoped his wife would be well soon. The line behind him got longer. With shaking hands, he got his checkbook out. Oh, great, a check. He asked me to write it out for him. “I’ll be glad to,” I responded in my best voice. As I hurriedly wrote the check, he fumbled through everything in his wallet, looking for identification.

    Don’t look exasperated, I told myself. Finally he found his identification, and I copied what I needed onto the check. I thanked him and told him good-bye. He smiled and wished me good day as he walked away.

    Now what are all these other people going to say about being delayed by that old man? I wondered. The next man in line said, “Hi.”

    “Hello,” I replied, and after making sure Mr. Smith was far enough away, I said that I was sorry everyone had had to wait.

    He smiled and said, “I just hope you’re around to help me when I get to be his age.”

    His statement changed my whole night. What a lesson he taught me! I had controlled my emotions and smiled because I was paid to, not because I had love or compassion in my heart. But this man had forbearance toward the faults and infirmities of others because he wanted to. His reaction had also made a difference in the attitude of those behind him in line. Their foot stamping and fidgeting had been replaced with smiles and patience.

    When you are irritated, tired, and out of patience, it lightens the heart to take a minute to think how you would want to be treated. Then turn it around and treat others that way.

    Photography by Steve Bunderson