Yesterday I set out to buy a few clothing items to refresh my office wear for the upcoming school year. Goodbye summer jeans, hello fall skirts. Destination: Ross Dress for Less, home of the crowded aisles, stuffed clothing racks, and great deals.
I spent almost an hour at the nightmare that is RDL before I finally found a few pieces that I liked.
I shouldn’t complain. Never, ever. I live in a beautiful city where life is good, family and friends are plentiful, and no one is threatening to kill me because I’m a Christian.
But when I saw the check-out line, thanking God for an opportunity to practice patience was far from my mind. I estimated that it would take at least 30 minutes for me to get through the line, and I had a hungry person back at home who was expecting take-out from Panda Express. Plus I had plans to sit in my backyard and relax with some reading and writing.
I had no time for this waiting stuff.
What is up with Ross? I thought. There are at least 30 people in line, and only three checkers are available?
The woman behind me had the same thought. “I can’t believe they don’t have more checkers,” she said. “On a Saturday, and it’s the weekend before school starts.”
I nodded. “How could they have not planned for this?” I took out my iPhone, clicked on Facebook, and prepared to settle in for the wait.
“I hope they bring out more checkers,” she said. “I’m supposed to be somewhere in literally three minutes.” She glanced at her phone.
I had to be somewhere, too. Like between the pages of a book.
“And I can’t leave,” she said. “I have to get these.” She held up a flowery robe and a cute girl’s dress. “They’re for my mother and my daughter.”
Something in the way she said those words caused a little skip in my soul.
“You can go ahead of me, if you’d like,” I said. “I don’t have anything to do today that’s pressing.”
“You know, I might just take you up on that offer, if it gets to that. I’ll return the favor someday. Pay it forward.” She smiled, but there was a sadness I could tell she was trying to hide.
“That would be great,” I said.
I looked around the store — dozens of people with lives to live, laughing, frowning, talking, texting. Then I thought about how God knows and cares about everything that is happening in those lives and in this woman’s life.
She and I didn’t speak again until I was at the front of the line. I turned to her and said, “Go ahead.”
“Thank you, thank you.” We switched places. I noticed then how tired she looked.
“Oh, it’s my pleasure,” I said. And suddenly it was.
“You don’t know what this means to me.” She pointed to her blouse where she wore a visitor identification badge. How had I missed that? “My mother is in the hospital and … ” She stopped, and I saw the tears fill her eyes before she turned away.
“I understand,” I said. Finally.
From behind I watched as she wiped her tears away.
Hurry, cashier, was my new thought. Hurry so that she can get out of here and be with her mother. I wanted to touch her shoulder and ask for her name. But I didn’t.
At last, the cashier called for the next person in line and the woman hurried to the counter. The transaction was over soon and she headed towards the exit.
It was my turn, and as I walked towards the counter, the woman waved to me. I waved back. “Thank you,” she said. “I won’t forget this.”
I believed her.
As I placed my items on the counter, I said “Hello” to the cashier, a young, unsmiling woman. She mumbled a response. “How are you doing today?” I asked.
Because you never know.