Recently, I wrote about the Universal impact the pandemic has made on all of us (link here.). I went out on a limb and suggested we all be a little more patient and kind with one another, whether or not we are known personally, to each other.  It was a “We’re all in this together” type of post.

After I completed that, my memory shot back to a few weeks ago when I was at the food store with Zach.  By way of history, Zach loves to shop and go into stores.  I think his Joy comes more from being around the many people and all of the activity than it does from actually wanting to buy anything.  However it is not always an easy trip.

Zach sometimes reacts to patrons, especially children looking at him with curiosity.  They notice he is different and often stare, cling to their parents leg, or ask questions.  Additionally, loud and abrupt noises can also startle him.  Sometimes too many people around overall, is enough to send Zach into a whirlwind of a bat shit crazy episode.

So an innocent trip to the food store, with Zach in the stroller and a bag to put our groceries in can lead to him tearing ass out of his chair, taking down displays, hitting (and I mean REALLY) hitting strangers.  I have learned to watch for signs of an imminent episode so I can deflate it.  Zach so enjoys being out in the community that this is just another calculated risk we take, even though it has sometimes ended in fiascos, with injuries to boot.

A few Sundays ago, I rewarded Zach for taking his bath by agreeing on a trip to the food store.  He loves the train at this particular store.  There is a rooster that comes out every so often and clucks.  Zach also loves to pick out candy to buy, even though he eats nothing.  I knew we weren’t there to shop, but more so to just get him out and about safely.

I was pleasantly surprised when this trip was uneventful.  We sang our regular songs (see former posts for our playlist) on our way there, and had no problem in the store.  I actually started shopping and getting some things together (a VERY ambitious effort when I have him in the store with me) and before long I had a bunch of items in the bag I had hanging over one of the stroller handles.

We went to get in a check out line.  I thought we might have more than the “15 item” limit but I wasn’t sure.  Do a bunch of bananas count as one?  Or as individuals?  If I have three of something, is that one item?  Or does it count three times?  The clerk in the express lane had no one in her line and was chatting with a colleague next to her.

Given the “success” we’d had getting through the exercise of going to the store, I felt confident to step into the express lane and started putting items on the belt.  “I may have a few more than 15, I’m not really sure…” I said to the clerk after saying hello.  I also checked around to confirm there was no one behind me.

Zach was doing great, and I was too.  We were just at the food store, doing a common activity that most people don’t think about, and having it go well!  Being able to actually buy items was a bonus we are not always afforded.

When the clerk disengaged from her colleague chat, and started to swipe my items, she said in a forceful tone, “This is the express lane.  The sign says 15 items or less.”

“Thanks, I realize that, I think we are pretty close and I didn’t see anyone in this line.”

The clerk was having none of it.  No eye contact, no greeting, just demonstrating complete annoyance that she was now potentially scanning more than 15 items for one customer, and no longer chatting with her colleague.

I marveled at how well Zach had done during this entire excursion.  He sat patiently as I wondered whether the clerk’s “negative energy” (aka shit attitude) might ruffle his feathers and send him into full on attack mode.  

Zach is so very perceptive and sensitive, he can pick up on toxic energy in just a few seconds.  But he was holding his own.  I remember thinking “We were so close to making a clean getaway, no hitting, no foods flying or tearing ass out of his stroller” and now this person might end up ruining it all!  

Fortunately Zach maintained himself without reacting to the clerk.  And so did I.  I wanted her to read my post about COVID, shared challenges and common humanity through the pandemic.  I wanted us to make a micro connection, like the ones I wrote about, just allowing small openings of Grace when we acknowledge our shared new reality.  I was hoping for a small space where a “I see you and I know its hard and it is hard for us too”  type of exchange could silently take place.

Not even close.  The clerk maintained her annoyance throughout the transaction (no one ever got in line behind us) and held up her chosen role of remaining pissed off and resentful.

But Zach and I maintained our chosen roles of harmony and presence.  Ok, maybe Zach didn’t, but I did.  I remembered that we can’t control others, and me getting upset at the way she treated us would be handing over my authentic power to a stranger who was already making things worse.

Zach and I completed the transaction, returned to the car, placed our items in the trunk and drove away fully satisfied.  This trip to the food store would count as a huge “Win!” And although we weren’t treated kindly, I resisted the urge to let it impact our overall achievement.

It would be nice if everyone could just be kind to one another.  But that is not the world we live in.  We can’t control others.  We can only choose our own reactions.  I was grateful not to have handed over that win to an unhappy food store worker who was probably already onto the next customer blistering before we could drive away.

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