Friday, October 22, 2010

Twelve Items or Less .....

That’s what the sign says on at least one check-out lane at most grocery stores. It’s that aisle where many with only one item wait while encountering those in front of them with a basket nearly half full. It is the lane which is destined to create frustration.

I would like to bring to your attention an event which happened to me in the last twenty-four hours. It happened in the “12 items or less” check-out lane at the local market.

Perhaps you are unaware that this particular check-out lane mixes both those who have rushed in for a pack of cigarettes, or a sandwich, or that one item to prepare dinner and was forgotten. It also is the lane many elderly customers use for meeting their daily, or every other day, food needs.

So you have a mix of many young people rushing to whatever ... and many elderly who need time to review their purchase and collect coins or write a check for their purchases. It is often a very trying time for the elderly, for they are aware of those waiting, and want to be considerate, but not everything is totally in their control.

Have you never noticed an elderly woman lose her coins in the bottom of a large purse, and after a frantic search will give up and switch over to writing a check? Have you never seen an elderly person feel rushed to complete a transaction, and become anxious to the point of wanting to run away to spare others the burden of waiting.

I waited behind an elderly woman who was having just such an experience after discovering she did not have the correct change for her purchase, and had to revert to the tedious task of writing a check. While trying to speed up her efforts, she dropped her purse, and was having a difficult time bending down.

It was so evident, as I helped retrieve her scattered items from the purse, that she was about to burst into tears, so as I collected her valuables, I began to talk about whatever came to mind and assure her that this happens to everyone. “Who hasn’t dropped coins or keys, etc. while checking out? “

It is at that very critical time that intervention is in order, and kind words of reassurance are so prominent. Words such as, “Take your time, the counter is yours; you were here first.” What an easy thing to say, and how often it makes such a difference.

I found out later, when encountering this woman at her car in the parking lot, that she did not know how to use the credit and debit cards, and was totally insecure with the technology, so the check was her alternative, and even that was not a quick process. I also learned in quick order that she was alone, had lost her husband of fifty years, and that buying groceries, although a chance to get out, was becoming a challenging experience.

Most certainly I have never considered a trip to the market as a matter for feeling insecure, but please remember that this anonymous woman is not alone. There is someone in a market line right now, very much in fear of so much you and I take for granted.

There are people in line who cannot read the labels and prices associated with certain goods, and when they arrive at the “12 items or less” line, they are confronted with the embarrassment of not having enough change for a few cans of beef stew and a gallon of milk. They will sheepishly say, “Just take back the milk.”

There are mothers with small children trying to buy enough for the week on a food stamp allotment and not having enough to cover some items not included in a food stamp program. They have to leave items on the counter. Most will seek to turn their backs so that no one will recognize that they are having to use assistance. Have you never seen a sweet treat left behind with children quietly pulled away so they do not notice that it has not been purchased?

The reasons should be familiar to all of us, IF WE PAY ATTENTION. Each situation allows us to say something so simple as, “Allow me to help with that,” or “Would you be offended if I assisted with those items?”

Just keep the voice low, and allow your assistance to be directed, and not draw more attention than is necessary. You will instinctively know when to step up and make a difference. You must learn not to avoid what is so needed, when you are fully aware and next in line. You are the person who can offer an ACT OF KINDNESS.

The opportunity for the most profound acts of kindness are just as close as your local food market.

Love…Rev. Elisheva