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Attitude Check

The woman was in a big hurry, brow furrowed, mouth set thin, corners turned down. She pushed her cart like a battering ram, hastily weaving around other shoppers, huffing and muttering, not a single “excuse me”. I couldn’t escape her. We passed in the frozen food section. She whisked by me in the canned goods aisle. She nearly ran over me racing through staples and baking goods like she was Mario Andretti heading for the checkered flag. She was everywhere, in a house, with a mouse, in the rain, on a train . . . But I digress. By the time she got to the check out, her cart was packed to feed an army. She reached the line before I did. I have no idea why I cued behind her. I was drawn, perhaps because I found her bad case of cart rage amusing instead of annoying. Then again, maybe I wanted to impishly needle her. Not exactly Christian of me, I know.

Crammed in her cart were multiples of frozen green beans, mushroom soup, French fried onions, boxed stuffing, canned pumpkin puree, evaporated milk, and sweet potatoes. Super sleuth that I am, I deduced she was shopping for a church-sponsored community meal as it was two days before Thanksgiving. Instead of joyfully accomplishing her task, she looked miserable and unhappy to the core. I began to wonder if she was one of those people who only go to church because it’s Sunday.

As we stood in line, she got a call on her cell phone. She was already tense; the call ignited another level of vexation. When she was off the phone, she began muttering, “Now what am I supposed to do?” Her eyes darted from the check out to her cart, toward the aisles she’d just left and back to the check out. I heard a small voice telling me to ask her if there was a problem. I did. She explained in heaps of exasperation she needed to return several items. Someone had messed up and given her the wrong list. I smiled and said if she wanted to take them back, I’d save her place in line.

She responded in disbelief. Despite or maybe because of her rude behavior, her reaction further amused me. As I reassured her I meant what I said, I got the sense that she would never have done the same for someone else. I watched her expression morph from surprise to relief to—shame. I hadn’t meant to shame her, but it was clear she realized her attitude was selfish and needless. By the time she got back from returning the items, her face had softened. She thanked me several times and I assured her that all was good. Then I locked eyes with her and said, “I’d want someone to do the same for me.” For the briefest instant, she winced.

I hope this woman remembers that kindness is never out of style. I hope she takes a deep breath the next time she is doing charity work and remembers that charity starts in the heart. Most of all, I hope I check my own attitude when I’m harried, tired and irritable.

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