Friday, June 8, 2012

Appreciation


I was standing in line at the grocery store. It was the middle of the afternoon on a sunny day...one of those lovely days when you can smell the trees, the lushness of newly mowed grass, even the clouds seemed whiter.  I had filled my cart with roots to roast--turnips and parsnips and sweet potatoes.  Fresh rosemary, a loaf of garlic bread, brie to wrap in pastry and bake.  I arrived at check-out.  Three lines open, two carts in each--throw the dice, right?  I park.  Now, I might add to this mental picture that the attached liquor store was having a tasting which meant I had three choices of merlot to sample as I waited...yum.   However, it was very shortly apparent that things were amiss.

The cashier was in his early twenties.  A bit scruffy, rugged around the edges; well mannered but needed a good meal.  He was polite, nice, tired.  The two carts in front of me....wow.  Soon after my first sip of a dark californian blend, I noticed--she was swearing at him.  She was the same age as he.  There was a baby in the cart and she had a pack of WIC (our "women, infants, and children" food supplement program) checks in one hand and a cell phone in the other.  She mocked him.  It was so obvious he was new, nervous.  She was that "pretty" that had paled, faded as if over-used too early to settle within her.  Highlights a little too white, black eyeliner a little too thick, cherry lips that pulled back over viciously sharp teeth.  She asked if he was stupid.  She joked about his blush with the girl behind her who also had a stack of checks and an Access card.

His pain was palpable.  It radiated from his reddened cheeks as he struggled to put the numbers in the system, calculate the credit, and scan the specific food.  He cringed as he told her the juice she had chosen wasn't covered, and physically cowered as she raged at him.  When it was all done and he had fed her checks into the register, she asked for four packs of cigarettes and pulled out a wad of $20 dollar bills to pay for them.

I gripped the bar of my cart so hard I knew I would have bruises later.

She sneered.  She laughed with the girl behind her--this one also in her twenties, with two kids hanging on the sides of her cart and her belly stretched tight with a third....she swore.  Language that made me gasp--actually out loud--so that they both looked at me.  She tossed her cheese and milk carelessly on the belt, "What, you got a problem with that??"

As the previous director and executive director of several early childhood centers and preschools-- I was speechless.  Dumbfounded.  Outraged.   I fumbled....me, with what I've done--the places I've been, I fumbled.  I stepped back.  At this point it had been 40 minutes.  I'd watched four other people get in line behind me...observe....check out the other lines....then smile almost apologetically, and move over.  I watched them leave.  There was some part of my mind that was screaming for me to just SWITCH LINES! What the hell was I doing?!  Just move over...

But there was a day.  One day.  A warm, indian summer that year, when a single mom with worn out sneakers, a cranky toddler and a hungry two yr old...she stumbled into the welfare waiting office four minutes before her appointment.  She wiped the tears from her cheeks.  She was horrified.  Three months ago she was a stay-at-home mom.  A wife.

That caseworker told me I was what she lived for--that I was someone who had worked since I was seventeen and had paid into this system and that is was a pleasure to help me when I really needed it.  She was amazing.  She took one of the most humbling....awful moments in my life and filled it with kindness.  I have never been so grateful.  So thankful.  With that green plastic card came the ability to feed my boys meat. Doctor appointments and immunizations.  I gave up selling plasma.

I have stood in many lines, wic checks in hand...cheese and milk and juice.  I never fathomed scorning the person who's very taxes were paying for my meals.  I stood quietly, deeply appreciating every mouthful of food, every gulp of milk.

Four months and my life was different.  I signed a lease, a contract....I sold a painting, opened a center.  I smiled as I hugged my caseworker and told her goodbye.  I was done.  Years have gone by.  For every frightened mother that I have held, connected, and cheered on as they landed on their feet; for every proud and hungry parent I have urged in the direction of help...even when it hurt.  For every moment that I have understood people who are struggling....I have been grateful for that time.  There is no replacement for walking in a pair of shoes.

But what have we become?

How is it that there is a wave of people that ridicule those of us that work forty, fifty hours a week--god awful black, cold early mornings....late nights comforting your son because you missed his Christmas play to handle an employee emergency?   How did this happen?  I have LIVED the life of a "family supported."  I have been there.  Not for a moment....a single instant did I not know that the food on my child's plate came from the table, the paycheck, the taxes of someone who got up and went to work.

I raise my boys now.  I watch them....watching me.   How do I teach them this?   How do we teach appreciation?

I believe appreciation is the child of "without."

The months going without the jeans that everyone else had in 7th grade--isn't this what makes them magic on Christmas morning?  Hamburgers and chips and cheap pop--isn't this what makes lobster taste like heaven?  Lonely nights render the arms of a loved one priceless.

Every day you sell plasma and give your kids mac and cheese for breakfast.....


Are there classes?  A summer camp?  How do you take a significant portion of our society and make them understand what it's like to do without....when they never do.

I'm truly lost here. I stood in that line.  For an hour.  When I started unloading the lukewarm milk and brie from my cart, the cashier said to me, "If you're wic, get out of my line."  I smiled gently.  I wanted so badly to undo some of the carnage they had left behind.  I told him he was doing an excellent job, that I was glad he was there to help me.  His shoulders unknotted....he turned, watching their carts as they left.  I wanted to tell him they weren't normal.  They weren't what we were working for. 

He and I...standing together on a warm spring afternoon.... wondering what the world was coming to.

25 comments:

Shelly said...

Bless you, my friend, for your warm and generous and healing heart, and bless you for seeing the truth in life that eludes far too many. I fear for entire generations coming up who do not know what you so eloquently describe.

And I am still seeing white- actually seething- about what those two did to that checker. Their comeuppance will come some day, and I hope they remember him when it does.

terlee said...

It's so strange that the least thankful are the very ones who should be the most appreciative.

Harassment, bullying, cruelty. So totally unacceptable. That poor kid.

Would the store manager have helped out, made a difference? Or would he/she have turned a blind eye?

I despair some days, truly I do.

Jeaux said...

Shamelessness, having grown in this instance to monstrous proportions, is a feature of shame.

I often make it a point to encourage the harassed. It doesn't take much. And he little explosion of grace is a day-maker for the giver and given both. Good of you to have stuck it out til you could deliver the goods.

Shea Goff said...

I don't know. I don't know what I would have done other than stay in that line. I do hear stories like this sometimes and now you have written those frustrations so beautifully (but of course you have).

It's strange. I live in the poorest state, utilize the town's laundromat, buy my groceries with what money I have and never, not once, have I personally witnessed this attitude.

What you did is the only thing I know to do which is be in control of who I am.

Glad you're out there. Much love to you, Chantel.

The Empress said...

Oh goodness:

breathless.

BREATHLESS.

You are one of the people that lives life on a different plane than 96% of the most out there.

You see things others don't see. You read things between the lines that are otherwise lost into the air like a dandelion wisp.

I am lucky to know you. I really am.

Chantel said...

Shelly--I am dumbfounded at the world sometimes...like I skipped a chapter and have lost my place in the story. Somehow we have to rewrite these days...change the ending.

Terlee--me too. Which is why I come here to be with you. xo

Jeaux--thanks, I just couldn't leave the 'scene of the crime'...too much damage had been done.

Shea--thank you. I think much of this comes with city life, it seems to breed the "I deserve it" mentality like nothing else. My heart aches for the cashier...but also for the children of those women. What chance do they have? *sigh*

Empress--the feeling is so mutual! However, sometimes that other plane is full of the sadness others skip. To be honest, there are times I wish I didn't see so much...I think my heart would ache less. Then again, this is why I come here...to find air. And good company. xo

FrankandMary said...

It is something that I have discussed, in a slightly different way, online on AOL years ago..& damn was I slammed. They said I didn't understand. I was privileged. I was smug. I was....a whole list of things, none of which I was or am.

Through a charity org that I have volunteered with for years I was once told(in a very nasty tone): I have never worked, I don't cook & I don't have any responsibilities. I have a great life.
Then that middle-aged man asked me for toilet paper.

Ok, however you define a great life.~Mary

Christine Macdonald said...

If only there were a summer camp tp teach gratitude.

Well done. Here's to the survivors - us all.

xo

mermaid gallery said...

It is so sad to read of cruelty and abuse at any time...but your sensitivity and warmth sooth the disappointed and discouraged spirit...

Mary said...

I just don't understand how some can be so cruel, so insensitive towards the feelings of others..I just don't understand what happened in their lives to make them the cold unfeeling people that are..

Brian Miller said...

ugh...this is hard...and rampant...and we are raising the generation to believe they are just gifted with things...and it will wreck us for sure...thanks for being real with your story...have been on assistance as well...when i worked well below the poverty line for like 7 years...there are plenty that do abuse the system though and it is stomach turning...but i see it all the time in the work that i do...

ND Mitchell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ND Mitchell said...

The injustice of this situation made me angry as I read it. I'm glad you were there to notice and to bring some healing to the situation, Chantel. I think you did the best that any of us can hope to do in a mad world: show that you care.
David

Chantel said...

Mary--lol Yes, his definition seems sadly off, but to each his own, right? Today it seems the "poor" are more privileged than so many...

Christine--amen.

Mermaid--thank you, I wish I could have done more....

Mary--I don't know either. I fear they will make disasters of their lives....and then others will have to clean up. It isn't right, but I have no idea how to make it so.

Brian--I have known people who struggled, who had little...and they were amazing. Simply because they worked for every single thing. I don't know what has birthed this mass of greed and abuse...perhaps it is just in never really working. Evidenced in their relationships, their children, their choices.... *sigh*

Chantel said...

David--you're so right. So many people say they care...but showing it is an entirely different thing. I only wished I had a way to somehow show those women the trainwreck they were headed towards--you can't live like that. Inevitably there will be such pain and sadness...I was angry at them, yes--but oh, so wanted to talk to their mothers! Who raised you to act like this?? lol

Marita Abraham said...

Chantel,

Yours stories always bring an amazing sense of inspiration. The life you have led and the people you have touched (and the people that have moved you in return) is a story worth retelling over and over.

I do wish, I so do wish you could have stopped those women, stopped them from treating that cashier so awfully. But in many moments where our words could make a difference, we are paralysed beyond comprehension.

Mary: said...

You handle things much better than I usually do. My children are always afraid I'll intervene and embarrass them like I did when the Walmart mom was verbally smashing her two or three year old one day, or when. . . well, there have been a few other times as well. . .
I think you were, instead, very patient and wise, with all involved in an upside-down society that feels it has rights just for living and breathing.
And, you found the perfect word again, entitlement.
I hope my children will see the world more as you do and less as those in line in front of you.
Bless you, dear Chantel.

BamaTrav said...

I would have put foot in ass.

Chantel said...

Marita--every instinct I have knew that they were the type of women who would actually enjoy a verbal battle if I had said anything...and the children were watching everything. I was just glad to be there after they had gone. Such tragedy.

Mary--thank you for your encouragement, I'm so lost when it comes to things that seem incomprehensible to me...I was so stunned. While I feel for the cashier, I'm also just appalled for the world in general. How we fight this mess we've made, I have no idea. xox

BamaTrav--lol, if you had been there and done such I would have cheered you like a lunatic!

Pam Lofton said...

Now see, this is where I get into trouble. If I see something like this, my mouth just starts going before my brain can stop it. Oh they would have surely heard words from me. We would have had a 'come to Jesus', if you will. I can't tolerate behavior like that. That's why I mostly stay in the house. LOL

Paige + Shauna said...

oh dear-kind one: thank you for
exhibiting lovingkindness to others that so explosively need
to be shown some kindness.
i've been that cashier and know the
feeling of being 'turned over' in public, and as this cashier prob. has a sensitive heart anyway it is more devasting, lucky for him you
sweetheat came along.

filling someone's unexpected horror with kindness is heavenly.

thank you for being you!

Carrie Lynne said...

Thank you for posting this story. New fan here.

Slyde said...

this story really got to me, what with the story this week of that poor poor school helper who those bastard fucktard kids ridiculed into crying. I just dont understand some people. young people mostly. I see that video and i want to smash their ipod-wearing spoiled heads together...

Matt Inwood said...

I didn't know what to comment when I first read this and I still don't now really. It moves profoundly and the proof of that is that the overwhelming feeling I was left with at the end was one of gratitude towards you that you stayed put and made good the wrong done to the cashier.

Chantel said...

Pam--lol, I like your phrase, "come to Jesus." May have to use that one...

Shauna--you are sweet as well as gifted, I just wanted to somehow erase their poison wake.

Carrie--welcome!

Slyde--I know exactly what you mean! My eldest son has been bullied at school for his bright red hair which he wears long, like Shaun White. All I want to do is go in swinging....who taught them this was ok?

Matt--thank you. I felt helpless, but determined to wash some of that bruising away. We live in a crazy world at times...