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You ever have one of those totally insignificant moments that just makes you stop and remember again how totally insignificant we all are together, emphasis on the together part? I think sometimes I totally forget the bigger picture, that no matter what we believe in, who we are, how we are, where, any of it, we’re all on this big rock together, right now, and that, in the scheme of things, is a pretty significant.
I was at a store the other day, grabbed a few things I needed, a few things I didn’t and went to check out. As I stepped into the line I caught the very tail end of the man in front of me saying to the check out lady, “…that’s all I’m saying.” And then it was my turn.
As I was checking out I noticed that the check-out lady was a bit shaky and not making eye contact. Finally, when all was said and done, even though nothing had been said, she looked up and attempted to say, “Have a nice day.” But she barely made it passed nice before she let out the saddest little cry. It was just so sudden and strange and real and human that I didn’t know what to do with any of it. And the lighting was weird and the folks behind me froze up. My first squashed instinct was to jump behind the counter and give this poor gal a hug and say, “look, I’ll take over for a bit, go get some fresh air.” But really, that would have been a crazy thing to do, which I find crazy. My helping this woman take a little break would have been a totally strange thing to do. Isn’t that strange? Isn’t it strange that some sort of engaged effort to help her would have made me seem and feel a bit nuts? So, instead I asked the obvious as I swiped my debit card, “Having one of those days, huh?” just to offer a very basic acknowledgment of her out of place tears.
The check out lady was still staring at the ground when she said, “That guy was just mean to me, for no reason. Sometimes it’s too much, you know?” I responded with, “Of course it’s too much. I’m sorry that guy was mean to you.” She smiled a little bit and I grabbed my bag of stuff and headed to the parking lot.
As I was walking to my car I saw the guy who was supposedly the impetus for the poor lady’s tears. I felt this flush in my chest. That one where I’m not totally sure I should do what I’m about to do but I also know I’m going to regardless. But what an asshole. He makes her cry, she’s stuck there and he just gets to walk away. So, as he attempted to drive away I stepped in front of his car and glared at him. He rolled down the window and looked at me. It immediately turned into a stare off: a game I am practiced in and have championed many a times. And yes, I was totally exposed standing in front of a car with a dude who is clearly not afraid to make someone cry but I just stood there, saying nothing, glaring at him.
Finally he said, “What the hell is your problem?” (This means I won the staring contest, by the way.)
“You made her cry. Just so you don’t get to drive off all free and clear, or maybe that’s what you were after.”
He leaned his head way out of the window and said, “Listen. You don’t know shit. Get out of the way.”
And then I thought, “Ok Jesse, this is escalating. This is you and your small bag of stuff versus a big dude in a big car…what now?” So I stayed put and opened my mouth again, “Who the hell do you think you are really? You really don’t care that some woman who is stuck behind a counter is crying right now because of you? Even if you are just an asshole, you really don’t feel even just a little bit bad about that?” At this point I just assumed he’d tell me to fuck off and then I’d flip him off and we’d all get on with our day. But instead he pulled up closer and very calmly said, “Look, I didn’t mean to make her cry. I would never try to do that. You need to move now.”
At this point I had my deer-in-headlights look going full blaze and said back in a sort of grumpy, shocked voice, “Ok… well, um, she is. So, what now?” Again I assumed he’d do or say something to attempt to intimidate me or hurt my feelings but instead he launched into an explanation full of sincerity and openness. The details of the situation are actually rather moot, the gist being, in his own words, he “felt like I wasn’t getting the attention I needed.” Apparently, the check out lady was having a conversation with someone else, making his check out experience feel like it was taking way too long and “like I was invisible.” His feelings were hurt so he told the check out lady that he thought it was rude that she was ignoring him. She got defensive. He got defensive. He said, “Well, I’ll make sure to avoid your line in the future.” Check out lady started to cry. Then I stepped in line.
As he was explaining his side of the story he started most of his sentences with, “It was upsetting me that…” and “my feelings were hurt that she continued to ignore me…” This big dude in his big car, who had just made the check out lady at the store cry was sharing his feelings with this random little dyke who just yelled at him and then blocked him in in a covered parking lot by standing in front of his car and refusing to move.
And if you’ve made it this far in the story I have a feeling this whole scene might seem and sound a bit moot. But living in Seattle I am in a social climate where if you are walking down the street and you try to acknowledge another human being most of the time you will be totally ignored or they will shoot you a dirty look like, “Why are you looking at me? Why would you do something like that?” So, this strange and brief and authentically human interaction with a few other folks just made me pause for a second.
When I think about it, it creeps me out how much intention and effort we put out there to stay eerily distant from each other. And although this whole scenario was quite strange and the context of the story is mostly irrelevant, it was a genuine interaction with the world and that’s all too rare, so, I’ll take it.
On that same note, the note where we are all so guarded that we have no idea what to do when another person we don’t know creates a totally authentic moment- note, here is a fine example. (It’s a wee 18 seconds for all of you attention-fearing folks):