Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save;
they just stand there shining. – Anne Lamott
I was surprised to see her checkout lane was nearly empty, as it’s often full. I quickly jumped in although I had no pressing needs. She was talking with the customer ahead of me, an older woman who was digging through her purse for God-knows what. The purse was huge, the typical kind filled with little pieces of crumpled paper and various plastic cards held together by rubber bands.
I overheard bits of their conversation as I loaded my few items onto the belt and then stood staring somewhat obviously and impatiently at the purse. I absentmindedly wondered how one’s purse gets to be like that.
The talk was of a diagnosis and surgery delayed. Possible cancer on the customer’s part and the cashier moved the conversation easily between jovial joking and caring concern.
“Where is it, in your lungs?” she asked.
“No,” the customer replied leaning in closer over the conveyor, “my uterus.”
Without missing a beat the cashier responded, “But you don’t smoke there!”
They burst into peals of laughter over the shared joke, then the conversation moved on to wondering how long she would have to wait for test results and concluded with the adage that “no news is good news.”
* * * * *
Grocery shopping can be a stressful experience for a mother of young children. By the time we get to the checkout lane, I’m often nervous as the sand in my hourglass quickly shifts from patience and obedience toward anxiety (on my part) and melt-downs (on the kids’ part). I’ve often picked Joyce’s* lane, not only because she’s fast, but because she’s caring. I don’t think I’ve ever been through her lane without her making a kind comment, asking a question about one of my often fussing children, or offering a sticker to each of them.
I told her this once, how I sought her out in the checkout lanes, and she told me she hears that a lot from customers; that the elderly and infirmed, those with disabilities of all sorts, seek her out. I’ve had glimpses of what grocery shopping might feel like for those with disabilities during times when my back has gone out or near the end of my pregnancy with the twins. In these times the idea of walking from one end of the grocery store to the other, much less waiting in line to checkout, was nearly overwhelming. When just getting to the store is a challenge, finding a quick and caring cashier can make a world of difference.
I could tell Joyce was a little embarrassed, seeing that I overheard her off-color uterus joke. As if to ease my possible discomfort, she went on to tell me that she’d worked at this store for nine years and in doing-so she’d learned a lot of things about people and found that sometimes a well-timed joke is exactly what’s needed. She told me she used to keep a journal about the people she meets, minus their names, just their stories and then she said, “Someone could write a book just standing here.” I told her she should start a blog and she looked at me with embarrassment saying, “I don’t have a computer,” then, “What’s a blog?” I tell her it’s like an on-line journal that everyone can read. Conversation shifts then as my groceries are bagged and she moves on to joking with the elderly couple in line behind me. Laughing again and caring.
* * * * *
Joyce’s one of those people who shines. It’s such a blessing for me to see her there in what’s clearly not an easy or well-paid profession. I’ve worked many similar jobs without really putting my heart, my self into them because I was embarrassed or thought the work was somehow beneath me. But Joyce brings her whole heart to her life, where it is, and by doing so creates a ministry out of her gifts of efficiency and compassion, her willingness to see and respond, to be moved by the circumstances of those in front of her.
Matthew tells us, “When he [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (9:36-7).”
I don’t know if Joyce is a follower of Christ, but I see her reflecting Christ in the way she continues to “see the crowds” and have compassion for them. Here’s hoping that we might each do the same today and everyday, wherever we find ourselves, by the grace of God.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. (Romans 12:1 The Message)
Maybe you’ve noticed someone who “shines” in their everyday ordinary life? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Please feel free to comment here or join the conversation over at A Field Of Wild Flowers on Facebook.
* not her real name!