Michael is a new cashier, a young guy – full of energy and dreams and promise for his future. I think he’s in pre-med and plans to be a doctor. We were talking in the cafe – me on my last ten-minute break, he (having started later than me) on his lunch.
“I was reading your blog the other night – I read it until 3 a.m., three hours worth. So much of it spoke to me.” This post is mostly going to be about concrete things people have given me at work. I’m going to violate some time-honored writing principles by starting with the biggest one – this personal, non-concrete gift from Michael. Michael was letting me know that my writing had given him gifts, but in the process he gave me one of the biggest gifts I could receive – he helped me to believe in myself. He told me that my writing has value, can help people.
This post I’m writing here has been sitting dormant for two weeks. Two weeks ago I wrote the barest outline – a list of several things people have given me at work, and maybe a few words about each. (I can’t even find that outline now.) But nothing has happened with it since – I’ve written not one more word. I believed in this post – I thought it could be really strong. One night I sat down to try to write it, but it was 8:30 p.m. already and I soon succumbed to sleepiness.
But I came away from my really very brief conversation with Michael today charged up. “I’m meant to be writing! And that post is next!” So here I am, having walked the dog after work (during which time I was writing this in my head), and now I’m at my computer writing. No emails, no reading the Washington Post online – I’m writing. Thank you Michael. And I shall steer you Michael towards this post after it’s posted – and I think you may get some good stuff from it.
I’m going to start my list of gifts given to me at work with the oldest one and then work towards the present. Some of these names (not Michael) have been changed to protect people’s privacy – or just made up because I didn’t know the person’s name.
( 4 years ago)
Walter was clearly intoxicated. But that didn’t invalidate his good-hearted generosity when he shoved at me one of the beers he was buying from me and said, “Have it – pop it open. Let’s both have one. You’re a good guy – I want you to have it.” I obviously couldn’t drink a beer during my shift at the cash register, so Walter’s kindly insistence was really kind of comical, but it was also really kind of sweet – he wanted to share with me.
(2 years ago)
I was immediately drawn to Sharon’s beautiful red homemade knit hat. When I expressed my appreciation of it, she said, “Thank you, I made it.” “Wow, do you sell them somewhere?” “No, I mostly just give them away to my friends.” “Well I want to buy one from you.” She took a breath as if considering for just a moment, then took the hat off her head and handed it to me – along with matching fingerless gloves (perfect for cashiering in a cold grocery store) she had in her purse. “Here, I want you to have them.” I protested, but she was very clear that she wanted me to have them, as a gift – and, truth be told, I also really wanted to have them. I have taken a lot of pleasure in wearing them.
(6 months ago)
Andy and Debbie have become friends of mine. We had lunch together once. They are not party people and don’t come to my birthday parties – but we love our brief time together every Monday. And I know that they care about me – when they ask how I am doing, they mean it. They read my blog and know that my ups and downs are more ferocious than most people’s. Andy has a favorite beer that he stocks up on periodically. I’m on a quest to find out what beers I most like and was asking him about his. He pulled one out of his grocery bag and gave it to me. It was an effortless gesture – what you would do with a friend. And it was also effortless to let Andy know later that I like his beer a lot.
(4 months ago)
Peter and Jessi are regular customers of mine. They are young, energetic (rock climbers) and fun – and they did come to my birthday party last year, along with Peter’s kids Jack and Ruby. Peter is a big, strapping young guy. As soon as Peter came through the door one morning, he came straight over to me and said, “You told us you are going to move – do you need help?” “Well, uh – sure.” He flexed his enormous bicep: “I’ve got this…and a truck.” I’ve probably told that story 20 times and I still laugh with delight – it was so perfect.
(2 months ago)
That new house, with two friends taking me in, was always meant to be short-term. Six weeks later I was moving to my friend John’s house – also agreed to be short-to-medium term, maybe several months. When Peter and Jessi arrived to once more help me move, I told them so apologetically, “John just called me. He got a text from his landlord that he is selling the house – we have 30 days to get out.” Peter paused a few moments before saying, “We’re going to have to just keep doing this until we get you settled somewhere.” When two days later I saw Jessi at the store, she said, “That’s just who he is – generous. He’s like that every day.”
(3 weeks ago)|
I didn’t remember ever seeing Mary before, but I was very personally drawn to her. I didn’t even know just what I liked so much about her, but I liked her a lot. When I went through my regular routine of asking myself what I would like to validate about her, I couldn’t even immediately come up with anything. She was pretty, but that didn’t feel on target for a validation. I just kind of irrationally liked her. We had a sweet mini-encounter. Nothing especially meaningful got said, but I felt good about it. And then she was gone.
And then three minutes later she was back. She stood behind the customer I was waiting on, held up a bottle of Synergy brand kombucha, Trilogy flavor – my favorite flavor. “I asked around what you might like and they said this.” I was dumbfounded. She gave me a huge smile and glided towards the door, looking at me and smiling all the time. I raised my hands in a shrug and mouthed, “Why?” I thought she enjoyed my confusion.
I think that part of what made that encounter, that act of generosity, so special to me was the very fact that I didn’t understand it. I didn’t think I had done anything to deserve it. When, during my ten-minute break, I told a coworker about this scenario I added – in my attempt to make sense of this – that the whole time I waited on Mary I was also thinking about my new roommate Lucy. I was thinking about what validation I wanted to give Lucy next. The one I had on the tip of my tongue was seeming too superficial and I was reaching for something more meaningful. My coworker said, “That’s it – the whole time you were waiting on Mary you were standing in a field of love, and she felt it. She became part of it.” That felt and continues to feel really right.
(2 weeks ago)
I didn’t remember Linda and nothing special happened between us – but I enjoyed the encounter with her. The last item that I swiped and that she picked up off the counter and dropped in her grocery bag was a chocolate bar. “Do you like chocolate?” she asked. “Sure.” “Chocolate with orange pieces in it?” “Yeah”? (Where is this going?) She pulled that last chocolate bar back out and handed it to me. “Here, I want you to have this.” “Why?” (I was genuinely confused.) “Because you’re awesome.” (But why am I awesome? I didn’t do anything.) I indicated to Linda how genuinely happy this made me. I didn’t comment on my confusion. I think she got that, and maybe even took a little satisfaction from it. (What does it mean to be awesome and why would she want to give me her chocolate bar?)
(4 days ago)
When I got back from my lunch break, there was a beautiful rose (probably from our floral department, just steps away from the cashier area) in front of my cash register. This time, along with a little bit of “Why?”, I more just accepted it – and felt really, really good. Somehow having no idea who or why made it more possible for me to just let go of the questions.
(3 days ago)
I was sitting in the café, fussing over a predicament. The next day I was going to a benefit “Sock hop” with a 50’s theme. The family I was going with (Peter and his family) had all put together 50’s style clothes – and I had nothing, nothing that felt in any way 50’s. As I was sitting there I looked across the café and saw my friend Jose from the meat department wearing a blue seersucker bomber cap – that looked to me like 50’s! I’ve gotta have that hat! So, in a move that felt to me bold and intrusive and maybe even inappropriate, I went to Jose, explained my predicament and said, “I’ve gotta borrow your hat!” Jose immediately took it off his head and seemed positively enthused to loan it to me.
At the cash register that afternoon, at the party and at the cash register again on Monday (Jose wasn’t due in until 2 p.m.), I got so many compliments about the hat that I started saying, “Either this hat is really great or you just don’t expect me to wear anything cool.” One of my customers said, “That hat is so you – you need to not give it back.” I was almost ashamed to admit to myself that I really kind of did not want to give it back.
When, on my afternoon break, I went back to the meat department to give Jose his hat, he wouldn’t take it. “No, it’s your hat now. It’s really you – it’s yours.” I was both completely knocked out by this generosity – and also somehow not surprised. It just fit with how I know Jose.
Today when I came back from my break, there was a chocolate chip cookie in a bag at my station. How did it get there? Was it a “put back” – somebody decided they didn’t want it and gave it to the cashier working next to me, who then accidentally pushed into my area? This seemed far-fetched. I asked Megan, my podmate. She knew nothing about it. “Maybe you have a secret admirer.” “I think I have a lot of them.”
In one of J.D. Salinger’s books there is a character who describes himself as a “reverse paranoid – I think that the world is conspiring to make me happy.” I think this is happening to me.