Where to Begin…


On my second day at work, the pace is starting to pick up. The store is a lightning rod of energy and commotion where the world begins and ends in a spectacularly mundane fashion. Children are running from their mothers. In every direction people are yelling and complaining and laughing. I try to absorb this curious and lively Institution of Americana with intention and purpose. The humdrum of hundreds of people scurrying about carries a sharp rhythm full of talking with customers, punching in skus and setting items in bags. There is an undeniable electricity to the whole thing. I can see why people feel open to engage with employees – why they are willing to share their lives with complete strangers. This is where they get their food. It’s a communal place. It’s one of the few vestibules left where the general public weaves their lives together in the real world.

We have six express checkout stands and I am on the far end away from the line of people. I’m checking out customers as fast as I can while trying to remain accurate. In between customers I attempt conversation with my new co-workers. It’s not easy since the line of people never ends. But I have no time to be nervous and I am genuinely enjoying myself.

A woman walks up to my line on the phone. She looks panicked and slightly confused. I ring up two of her items and tell her the total is $15.62. Tears start to stream down her face. 

“Are you OK?” I ask. I don’t think to mention that we have a police officer at the store if she is in danger. She grabs a napkin out of her bag, blows her nose and replies, “I just…I…” She is shuffling through her bag to find her credit card. “I’m so sorry…I just found out my brother died.”

Her words hit me like a tidal wave of that “fight or flight” feeling paired with empathy. What is one to do? Out of instinct, I ask, ”What happened?” I immediately regret the question.

“He was fighting cancer for over a year and he just passed. I just said my last words into his ear.”

As the computer processes her payment she says, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to put that on you. I just, yeah…”

I don’t know what to say besides, “I am so sorry for your loss. I…I…I hope you are going to visit family soon.”

“I am heading to the airport after I leave here.”

“That’s good. Have a safe flight and I hope you find healing together.”

“Thank you.”

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