The following event took place at least ten years ago…just one of those days I want to remember and the topic of choice for a writing assignment I was given this week:
Standing in a check-out line with four young children in tow was certainly not my idea of the perfect end to an already frustrating day. The cashier was quite young, as evidenced by her uncertainty as to how to look up price discrepancies, process WIC vouchers and deal, in general, with the growing displeasure of the long line of customers that stretched beyond that black belt and endless stream of merchandise. The children whined, the inevitable fallout of such a long wait, surrounded by the devilishly clever enticements that daily torment parents undergoing the same hellishly long wait, their plaintive cries for ‘this and that’ only added to the irritation of the other shoppers. Yes. I was “that mom,” the one with “too many kids” and not nearly enough patience an hour before dinner time. I looked at the flustered face of the cashier as I slowly approached the place of liberation. She couldn’t have been more than seventeen, a petite girl with mousy brown hair and freckles; she looked a lot like me at the same age. As much as I wanted to feel compassion, the glares of the other customers directed towards my noisy children and the endlessly long wait seemed to preclude that possibility. Finally, face to face I muttered my own frustrated and not-so-sincere “how are you?” She didn’t reply, intent upon the job at hand as she rang up products as quickly as possible, no doubt aware of the rude comments uttered from the long line of those who still waited. I placated my tired children with promised treats after dinner, which temporarily quieted them and with great relief, handed the cashier a $50 bill for the total. At this point, one of the children wailed, and I just couldn’t stand it any longer. The equally flustered cashier practically whispered “sorry for your wait…” I didn’t acknowledge her apology, but grabbed my change and fled the store as quickly as possible. Three steps from the door, I counted the cash in my hand.
Hmm. I looked at the receipt and noticed that the cashier had mistakenly given me change for $100 instead of the $50 that I had handed her. The children looked at me expectantly: “What’s wrong, mommy?” was the unanimous response. “The cashier gave me too much money back. Rats. Now we have to go back…” I said. “Can we keep it?” the youngest innocently queried. Ah. Yes. The temptation. A chance for retribution. I could have punished the corporate beast and the inept cashier in one fell swoop and simply walked out with compensation for my ridiculously long wait. I looked at the expectant faces around me. I am an honest person, but it would be patently dishonest to say that I didn’t seriously consider the aforementioned scenario. Those sweet, innocent faces…what message would I convey by my lack of mercy and, let’s face it folks, theft? And then I looked at that poor cashier. What would happen when her register turned up on even $50 short? She would be out of job, labeled a thief.
I couldn’t do it. I pondered taking the money directly to the service desk, but knew that she would probably receive a reprimand and perhaps even dismissal. So I stood in that long line again and waited to give her the $50, so she could slip it back into the register, hopefully unnoticed. As I explained to the children what I was doing and why, they were blessedly quiet, even patient. The look on this young girl’s face when I told her what she’d done and then handed her the money was priceless. I purchased a pack of M & M’s for the children so she’d have a reason to open her register and slip in the fifty. “Thank you! Thank you so much…I can’t afford to lose this job!” she tearfully whispered. “No problem,” I joyfully replied and sincerely offered “have a nice day!”
The four children present that day still remember. It has served as an example in so many different ways for all of us. An act of kindness and mercy can undo so much. Honesty is and always will be the best policy. Maintaining grace under pressure is a challenge that every human being on this earth will be called to exercise more than once and even small acts of kindness can turn the most seemingly insignificant event into a life lesson.