Thursday, January 17, 2013

It Matters To Me

Somedays you walk through like a zombie, focused on a destination, problem, or just some nonsense you can't get out of your head. Those are the days you might not notice the people you interact with. I was having one of those days, and I should not have noticed the man bagging my groceries, but I did. It wasn't that he's mentally challenged, really tall, in a bent over kind of way, or much older than your typical bagger that made me notice him. He stood out to me because he seemed so damn sad. It was like this blanket of sadness weighed on him, as if that was the reason his shoulders were bent. He stood silently at the end of the cashier station, eyes down, bagging. When I was pushing my cart out of the store that day, I said to him, "Thanks for your help." He turned to me and in a slow gravely voice said, "Thanks for putting up with me."

It wasn't the Eyore tone that got me, but the automatic nature of this response. It was as if it had been taught to him. And it made me wonder about his life and who had instilled in him that he was worth so very little that he had to thank people for, "putting up" with him.

I was so stunned by his response that I startled but kept walking. My tongue and brain couldn't operate fast enough to come up with a reply. I was at my car before I came up with a decent reply, and I swore to say it next time I shopped. And you know what, I did. He said, "Thanks for putting up with me" and I said, "It's always a pleasure to see you."

I walked out hoping it mattered, hoping the next person in line did something similar. Because it mattered to me. This man's sadness mattered. It seemed unfair for him to be burdened with that much pain, so much that it bent him over. It didn't happen right away, but one day when I went to the store instead of his usual sad line he said, "Have a good day." And his voice was a little lighter, his stance less tense and trying to go unnoticed. I was happier with this response, but I still worried for him. The sadness was still there, so I made sure to really engage positively when I interacted with him. A stupid, little thing. Yes. But it still mattered.

I'll never know the many little and big things those who worked with him, interacted with him, and hired him did to encourage this man as well, but he changed. Boy did he change. When I went back to the store over the holiday, I had him as my bagger. I noticed instantly that the sadness around him had lifted. He hummed a cheery song as he bagged. He seemed less bent over, and he didn't hide his eyes from mine but met them directly. He smiled at me! When he was done bagging I said, "Thanks for your help" and he said, "Happy to help. Have a great day!" And no, he didn't just say it as if someone had taught it to him. He said it with feeling that washed over me, lifted me.

My point is here, if that if you're rushing through your day like a zombie, try to give a little to those you interact with. It matters. And if you're bent over by sadness and feel like you want to be left alone, remember that your feelings matter. You matter. People do care. People can't help you, if you don't tell them what's wrong. And unlike the gentleman who bags my groceries, sometimes your sadness isn't so easy to see. Let people know you're in pain. We want to help. And your happiness, well it matters to me.

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