It was a hot, uncomfortable day, and the heat sapped both my strength and my patience. My shift as a checker at a grocery store was about to begin, and as I sat watching the clicks of the time clock, the soft, cool air in the store did not make me feel better. Ten more jumps of the minute hand, I thought, and I need to have all of me working well.
“Kay, come to the courtesy booth,” blared the store intercom. Wait a minute! At least let me clock in, I thought.
As I approached the front of the store, a customer asked me where the pimentos were. 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 made 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 my money for my register, verified it, and found a discrepancy. I informed the manager, who was standing by the safe. “What?” he demanded.
“My ones are over—by two dollars,” I replied.
“Oh, let it go if it’s only that much,” he said disgustedly.
Then why follow the advice posted on the time clocks of being conscientious? I thought. If I can’t bear the manager, I know I’ll never tolerate the customers!
I was told that I’d be working the express line register. Oh, great! I disliked that checkstand: “Eight items or less.” Someone was always pushing what “eight items” was or taking a long time to write a check. What a night this will be!
I was so wrapped up 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 lift. I thought I might make it. 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 halfway mean it. He proceeded to tell me how he was as he fumbled to get his wallet out of his back pocket and I rang up his three items.
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, fine, a check. He asked me to fill 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 I.D., and I wrote what I needed. I thanked him and told him good-bye. He smiled and wished me good day as he walked away.
Now what are all these people going to say about being held up 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 when I get to be that 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. 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.