This morning at the Y, I made my usual mistake of watching the news from the elliptical machine before fleeing in horror to the Cypress Wetlands Trail outside. Not even the sublime beauty of the trail – which usually heals what ails me – could purge from my mind the image of the American journalist kidnapped and decapitated by ISIS yesterday. Around and around the trail I went, but nothing worked… not even the egrets or the purple wildflowers…
So, I’m driving home from the Y feeling heartsick… and I remember I need to stop by the Piggly Wiggly for Jeff. He wants three limes and a head of garlic for a chicken casserole he’s making for dinner. I’m careful not to add anything else to my basket. There’s a ten dollar bill in my purse, and I don’t want to use my debit card. We’re living very close to the edge these days, and with all the automatic drafts we’ve got going, one can never been too careful. (I can still feel the sting of the “insufficient funds” notice I received at Publix a while back… with a bunch of well-heeled shoppers standing in line behind me. Oh, the burning cheeks… The pounding heart…)
I bring my humble purchase to the check-out counter, thinking it’ll probably run me about $5. The clerk is a handsome young black man, with long cornrows under his Pig cap. He gives me a lovely smile.
“Did you have a good workout?” he asks, noting my gym togs.
“Pretty good,” I reply, still in my funk, but trying to shake it for his sake. “Feels good to be done, anyway.”
“That’s what I’m talking about,” he smiles, while doing his thing behind the counter. “That’ll be $2.09,” he says.
“HOW much?” I ask, squinting at the screen… I think I’ve heard him wrong.
“Um… 2.09?” he answers, tentatively.
“Wow! That’s a deal!” I reply.
“Whew! I thought you were about to chew me out. I thought you were gonna say it was too much!”
“No! I was surprised it was so little. But even if I’d thought it was too much, I wouldn’t chew you out! Does that happen a lot here?
“Ma’am… you have no idea. It gets pretty bad….”
“Really? I’m sorry to hear that. How do you handle it?”
“Well, I’m usually an upbeat person,” he tells me. “Most days, your bad attitude isn’t gonna bring me down,” he smiles.
“You know, I just don’t get it,” I tell him. “I don’t understand why people are mean to you. It’s so much easier just to be nice. Don’t you think?”
“Yes ma’am, but most people aren’t like us. They used to be, but not anymore. That’s what’s wrong with the world today. So many people got so much hatred in their hearts. That’s why so many bad things are happening. The world’s going downhill fast.”
“It sure seems that way,” I tell him. “But, you just keep on doing what you’re doing. You just made my day brighter.”
“You, too, ma’am. You keep the faith,” he tells me.
“I will… I sure will,” I reply, feeling emotional as I head toward the door. “You are a fine young man… keep up the good work.” I’m almost out the door…
“Ma’am… do you want your fruit?”
Of course I’ve left my purchase behind. That’s what I do. I probably hear it from Jeff five times a day: “You don’t pay attention.” (I happen to believe I pay attention to different things than he does, but that’s for another column… )
As I go to retrieve my limes and garlic, I have an urge to hug this boy behind the counter. But I don’t. I just grab my bag, give him one last smile, and leave the store.
Then I drive home in tears. I’m not even sure if they’re happy tears or sad ones.