I was tired and I didn’t want to be there. Grocery shopping at 7:30pm the night before a massive snowstorm, by its very nature, is an unenjoyable experience. But it had to get done, so I did it.
Headphones in, shopping list in hand, I made my way up and down the aisles, tossing this and that into my carriage. I pushed the big red button at the deli for a number and groaned; there were seven people ahead of me in line, and only two employees working behind the counter. Frustrated, I made my way around the produce section, picking up apples, spinach, and bananas. After a few minutes, I returned to the deli and was shocked to see that the line hadn’t moved much at all. I parked my rear end against the side of a container of refrigerated items and waited for my turn.
Bored, I began to study the faces of the two workers behind the counter. They were scrambling around, flustered and frustrated. One of them, the male employee, was simultaneously attempting to serve customers while also preparing online orders. He was clearly tired. The second employee, a middle-aged woman, referred to all the customers as “sir,” and “ma’am.” She was short, and her face was creased and lined. She had the look of a person who wasn’t a stranger to long hours of hard work. Yet, she treated everyone with respect.
Ten, fifteen minutes went by and I waited my turn, thinking of the dinner I was going to have at home. My feet were cold and I wanted to leave the grocery store. I was number 407. The male employee called out, “406.” A lean man, with a chiseled chin and a perfectly groomed half-beard, approached the counter. “It’s about time,” he called. “What, are you two sleeping back there?”
The two workers looked discouraged, and one of them quietly apologized for the long wait.
What struck me in that moment, was how the man with the chiseled chin refused to sympathize with the deli workers. His unwillingness to acknowledge how tiring their job is, his apathy towards the fact that their department was clearly under-staffed, and his decision to voice his frustration by criticizing and degrading them, all bothered me. Now, I have no idea what was going on in that man’s life at that time. Perhaps he had been yelled at by his boss, or maybe his daughter had gotten in trouble at school. Maybe he had been fired that day, or perhaps the impending snowstorm had him on edge. Regardless, I think it’s important to treat people in the service industry with love and respect. Walk a mile in their shoes, and say a prayer next time you see a tired deli worker desperately trying to fulfill all of our orders.