By Paula Damon
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” C. S. Lewis, writer and theologian
Dec. 5, 2013
“Are you ready for Christmas?” a Wal-Mart clerk asked me while I was scanning holiday lights at the self-checkout counter. I was on a quick stop before my Zoomba exercise class at 5:45 p.m. And honestly, I thought it was way too soon to be asking that question of anyone, especially me.
“Not even close,” I chuckled, somewhat defiantly. “How about you,” I slyly retorted, using a back-at-you tone. “Are you ready for Christmas?”
“I’m ready for it to be over!” the clerk spouted adamantly with a hint of fatigue in her voice.
“Really, so soon?” I asked, quite surprised. And then it dawned on me – suffer the poor souls in retail who have been staring down “holly jolly” since before Halloween.
“Well, it all depends on how much I can get done on my day off tomorrow,” came her calculated response.
“There’s way too much pressure this time of year, don’t you think?” I asked rhetorically.
Shaking her head in agreement, she catapulted into a litany of people and gifts remaining on her list.
It did not take me long to realize that she could use an attentive ear, and for some strange and wonderful reason, she had chosen me. So, I did my Christmas spirit best to multitask between the talking cash register’s repeated recant of, “Insert cash or select payment type” and this dark-haired fair-skinned store employee, full to overflowing with what became a nagging interior sorrow.
As her narrative unfolded, she centered on Grandma, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
“She’s having difficulty putting names with faces.” The clerk’s eyes searched me, almost beggar like. “So, I’m making her an album with photos of all her grandchildren. And, I’m going to write our names underneath to help her remember.” She proceeded to delineate who’s who in the descendent line with her hands drawing names in air laced with mingling aromas of fresh baked bread, popcorn and deli fried chicken.
After recounting through watery eyes examples of the piecemeal destruction the disease rendered, the clerk mentioned her grandfather’s new role of filling in the blanks for his wife’s failure to recall.
The young woman’s pale face reddened.
“That’s what I want to do,” she sighed, “but I’m not sure if I’ll have enough time to finish it.”
“Your grandmother is very fortunate to have a granddaughter as thoughtful and caring as you,” I remarked.
Her face beamed while her eyes remained affixed to mine. All the noise and chaos of “Wally-World” faded in the background. Conflicted, I was torn between making it to my class on time and realizing this dear one wasn’t quite finished yet.
Leaning into my hard-boiled determination to not be late, I slowly side-stepped toward the exit, blessing her as I shuffled away with “Have a very merry Christmas.” This regrettably came off as quite trite.
“You, too,” she said, half-smiling, her face tightened and then quickly cast a lonesome glance back to her jurisdiction of aisles, which were still churning with exhaustive frenzy.
Hurrying to my car, I reminded myself that there’s no such thing as a quick stop at Wal-Mart, where any number of distractions can waylay the best intentions to get in and out. Never did I expect my delay to be a check-out clerk who really needed someone to listen – a shoulder on which to lean, maybe even grieve.
I plan to return to that store, and with any luck she’ll be working. This time, I’ll shift my focus from me to her, concentrating less on what I need to do and more on what she needs me to do.
I’ll try to do a better job of being a courier of glad tidings.
After all, it is Christmas.