I donít want to sound like Iím whining or anything. It really wasnít that big of a load.
But . . . well, I am getting older. And it had been a long day. And three large frozen pizzas (including one that has about 15 pounds of sausage, onions and peppers on it) and a stainless steel fondu set (Anita is having another of her 70s flashbacks Ė next thing you know sheíll be hanging macrame and wearing polyester) . . . well, they can get heavy after a while.
So I was appreciative when the young father urged me to go ahead of him in the long check-out line.
"Are you sure?" I asked, nodding toward the two little boys he was wrestling over his fully loaded shopping cart.
"Iím sure," he said pleasantly. "Youíve only got four things there. Plus, Iím trying to teach these guys how to be . . . you know . . . respectful."
He didnít say "respectful of their elders," but I knew thatís what he meant. I should have been bothered by that. I should have politely declined and then stood there behind him so he could see how tough and verile I still am. But my poor arthritic hands were killing me, and I needed to get to the drug store before it closed to pick up my Viagra.
I stepped ahead of him in line, right behind a young mother who was pushing not one but two shopping carts piled high with pretty much everything, including Ė Iím not kidding about this Ė a kitchen sink. She had been watching the exchange between the young man and I, and she smiled as I walked toward her. I smiled back.
"Thatís quite a load youíve got there," I said. "I hope youíve got a truck to haul it in."
Now, youíre going to have to trust me on this. I was just making conversation. Itís what I do. I admit it -- I talk to strangers. In restaurants, in stores, on the street. I just . . . talk. I wasnít hinting that she should let me go in front of her. Honest. That thought didnít even occur to me Ė at least, not until later. I was just . . . talking.
But she thought I was hinting. She suddenly looked troubled. She looked at my load. She looked at the young man behind me. Then she looked at her shopping carts Ė and retreated behind them. She busied herself with rearranging things in her carts, and then fumbling in her purse for . . . who knows what.
To tell you the truth, I felt kind of sorry for her. Clearly, part of her wanted to invite me to go ahead of her. But another part of her wouldnít allow her to do it. She probably had places to go, things to do, people to meet. I understood that. But I could see it gnawing at her.
Suddenly the person in front of her moved through the check-stand, and it was her turn to start putting items on the counter to be scanned. She hesitated a moment Ė "Do I let the old guy go ahead of me or not?" Ė and then she started unloading her stuff.
And another opportunity to make the world a little kinder and gentler passed.
Please believe me Ė I wasnít angry with her, nor was I judging her. At least, I donít THINK I was. I just found the whole scenario very interesting. I felt like I could read her thoughts because, to be perfectly honest, Iíve been in that same situation myself. We all have Ė on the freeway, in the movie theater, on a busy street, at the office, in the home. An opportunity to be kind suddenly presents itself. We hesitate, if only for a moment. And then, just as suddenly as it arrived, the opportunity passes.
And it gnaws at us. Troubles us. †And makes us wish we had followed the impulse.
So Iím suggesting that we quit hesitating. When we have an opportunity to be kind, seize it. Act on the impulse. Itíll only cost you a moment or two on the freeway or in the store, but the good feeling youíll feel will be worth it.
And youíll be spared any more whining from old guys like me.
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--- © Joseph Walker
Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com.