If Nothing Else, Be Kind

Angie and I stopped by Dollar Tree earlier this week to pick up a birthday card for her dad. Our purchase was small and the line was extremely long so we decided to walk the aisles for a bit. When we returned to the front of the store 10 minutes later, the line was even longer than it was before. For a moment, we debated on returning the card and coming back another day but we had combed through so many cards to find this one that we didn’t want to take a chance that it might be gone (or more likely, that we’d forget to come back and would end up paying more for a card at Walmart.) So we got in line.

I’m the first to admit, I’m not the most patient person in the world. I’m working on it but sometimes I still get antsy waiting in line. This day though, I felt pretty peaceful. We had nothing else pressing to do, except stop in to check on my mom, so we weren’t in a hurry. The same could not be said for a group of 4 at the head of the line.

We were 3 people back from the foursome but could hear every word that was said. Yes, they were that loud. At first, they were complaining about having to wait in line for so long, but then. one of the women started calling the cashier names. The cashier was probably all of about 18 years old. This was likely her first job. And to boot, this was only her second day on the job. She held her composure and continued to scan the items before her. All the while, the leader of the foursome continued to berate her, while the other three laughed. These were adults, mind you. Grown adults!

The customer behind them was embarrassed and unsure of what to do. I could tell because she kept looking back toward the line as if asking for help. The man in front of me just muttered, “Only in America.” He was from Haiti.

To add insult in injury, the Less-Than-Fantastic Four decided, after the cashier had totaled out their transaction, that they needed sodas. One of them walked back to the cooler, grabbed 4 drinks and came back to the register. The cashier couldn’t add them to the transaction and told the leader that she’d ring them up after she paid for the first purchase. Ms. Meanness refused. She wanted her way or no way. In the end, Ms. Meanness paid for the first purchase, threw a handful of bills and coins on the counter for the drinks, said something obscene, and stormed out, telling her group that they were never coming back.

“Wouldn’t that be great,” I remember thinking to myself, just as the poor cashier burst into tears.

As human beings, we may not know what the right thing is to do when someone is acting the fool in front of us, especially in this day and age, but we all instinctively know what to do when one of us is crying. We comfort them. And that’s what we did. Every single person in that line. I have never seen such an outpouring of support.

When it came our turn to check out, the only thing I could think of was something I read on Facebook earlier in the week:

So I simply said, “It’s not about you, it’s about them. They are the ones with the problem. Don’t let them get the best of you.”

I’m pretty sure my words, and the words of all the rest of us who stood there witnessing this senseless act of stupidity, were too little too late. We don’t go to Dollar Tree often but I can almost guarantee you that this girl will not be there the next time that we do. The look on her face when she asked me if I knew what time it was told me that she was counting down the minutes until this day, this nightmare, and this job were over. I know that look because I have worn it before myself.

This kind of stuff happens way too often. Everyone that I talked to about this incident had a similar story. My niece, that same day, received a call from her friend who works in the mall. Two customers had gotten into a fight during her shift. In the midst of the brawl, someone yelled that they saw a gun and the mall was evacuated, but not before people started running and pushing each other in panic. Thankfully, there was no gun but here in my own town, three young men got into a fight at Save-A-Lot last week, where there was a gun and one of the men was shot.

When I was 18 years old, I worked at Save-A-Lot. This same one.

I hate to say it, but as the foursome at Dollar Tree stood there being mean, thoughts of brawls and guns and pain and death crossed my mind. We all think we’d be a hero if something bad happened in front of us but the truth is, more often than not, we’re just as scared as the person being harassed. None of us want a trip to the mall, the grocery store, or Dollar Tree to be the last trip we ever make, so when people are being bullies, sometimes we just stand there in the in-between.

Had someone spoken up or spoken out – even the cashier – we don’t know what would have happened. Perhaps nothing, since bullies don’t like it when someone stands up to them, but at the same time, we don’t really know.

I don’t like being scared. I don’t like feeling helpless. I don’t like it when folks are mean to others. But if life has taught me anything, it’s this – I can’t fix what’s broke inside other people. I can only fix me. I can be the good that I want to see in the world. I can be more patient. I can smile more often. I can practice saying positive things, even when everyone around me is negative. Not just when I’m standing in line but every day, in every situation. If I do nothing else, at least I can be kind.