Last night was a great example of how a little bit of patience can make a difference, especially during the holidays. I wasn't thinking about the fact that it was Christmas Eve when I stopped at the grocery store last night. I had been driving around the 2-4 miles required to let the "flat tire fix" work it's way through my always low tire before filling it with more air. And it had totally frustrated me that I paid for air at a gas station and the pump didn't work. I even tried it on another tire; no luck. This was the 5th gas station this month where I've tried to fill that tire and found a broken or unavailable air pump. And the attendant didn't seem to care that I'd paid for a service that wasn't delivered. He just took my gas money and I was on my own -- even though I had him try the pump too. I'll go back during the week and speak to the owner; I shouldn't have to pay for something that doesn't work.
So, back to the grocery store story. I needed 2 or 3 items to bake some rolls and a quiche this morning (my next task!). We grabbed a cart and heard the announcement: "Attention please, Stop and Shop will close in 20 minutes. Please bring all your items to the checkout line. We will close at 6 PM. Merry Christmas." We really did have only a few items to get and knew the store layout, so it only took us a few minutes to get what we needed and get in line.
Oh...very long lines. Seems everyone was stopping at the grocery store on their way home from work. One woman was taking charge while yelling back at the loudspeaker, "Hey, just put some Christmas music on. It would be nice to hear something pleasant for a change." She had no one behind her and snagged our cart and dragged it up behind her. "Come on, I'll be fast; don't worry. "
She talked nonstop; our new friend. We quickly realized that she probably has some mental health issues but was making the best of a crowded store with employees who wanted to get home. Thankfully, the store was staffed with extra help at the front, especially for those self-serve checkout registers like ours. She picked up some perishables someone had left behind and shouted for a store clerk to come get them before they went bad. Then she yelled at the loudspeakers again. We settled in for what we suspected would be a long wait.
Our new friend finally got to the register, still promising us that she'd be quick. Of course, she spent enough time gesturing and talking to us that it slowed her down. But she was compensating for the stress of the lines, the looks people were giving her, and her own internal issues that make such shopping difficult. She had a system. She'd put through 4 or 5 items, then go down to the end and bag them and put them back in her cart. She bagged each item separately -- yes, each single item got its own plastice bag and then was placed in two more bags; each item got 3 bags. I started to revisit Monk, recognizing that her OCD was in full force. So we just settled in and waited. We knew this would be a little bit of a wait but we really weren't in any hurry. The store was in a hurry, but that was immaterial. We were next in line and had no need to try to hurry this woman up.
She talked with us the whole time she scanned and bagged her items. Then she found an item that had a mark on the package. Oh, Oh. That usually means something has to go back. "You know," she said, "Normally I'd have to send this back, but I can adjust. I can do this." She really was trying to be quick, to adjust to the situation, and to hurry herself. I was impressed with her candor and efforts.
The young man behind us moved to another line and was out of the store before we got to the register. But we stayed put and talked with this woman who was trying so hard to accommodate the situation and control her impulses. She was impressed that we were so patient, so I imagine that people generally give her a hard time. I was glad we were not on any sort of deadline, because we would have been out of the store much more quickly had we not been in line behind her. But we had no deadlines, no one waiting for us to bring dinner home, or anything like that. Spending a little more time in line, enjoying ourselves and talking with this woman, seemed like the right thing to do. She made it out of the store without the usual stress I imagine she feels and the store didn't have to deal with angry customers fuming over someone holding things up.
It was a small piece of the day, overall, but one that reminded us that everyone has their issues and problems. Sometimes these affect us; in this case, very indirectly. But this woman has to deal with this every day, all day; directly. A little patience on our part meant she could get out of the store still in a pleasant mood and we were still in the same frame of mind as well.
Patience. Isn't that one of the 7 Virtues? We don't practice it often enough. Road rage is largely due to impatience at the wheel. Texting while driving is largely due to impatience (can't wait to stop somewhere to safetly send a message). Pusing others, either verbally or physically, is often due to impatience.
I think we need to practice patience a lot more. It can help us slow ourselves down so we can appreciate others and ourselves even more. And it can help us when someone else isn't able to not do what they're doing that aggravates us so much. Like the woman last night, some things are difficult to control. Yet, she did try to control it and it was partly due to our patience with her. Our patience helped her relax enough to maintain some control over something that tends to control her.
So we gave each other a gift; our patience to her control. And isn't that what a Christmas gift should be all about?