The Old Man Who Almost Made Me Cry (Twice)

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One day at work, I was – you guessed it – scanning groceries. I’d just finished ringing an order for an elderly woman, and she had moved down a few feet to retrieve her wallet and fish for her payment. A gentleman about the same age approached behind her, sliding his credit card. This happens all the time, so I responded, simply asking, “Oh, are you together?” The woman graciously said no and laughed it off, while the man snarled as if my query were ridiculous. I informed him the woman still needed to pay and reached across the counter to clear his card information from the reader. You know, just doing my job.

It was then the man proceeded into an emotional tirade, telling me how “rude” I was, that I was “not trained right” and that he would “have me fired”. I tried to explain myself, clarifying I was only trying to prevent his money going toward the wrong transaction. At this point, the abuse only escalated and he continued his tirade through the woman walking away, his (thankfully short) order, and me handing him his receipt. I handed him the slip and turned to change my register’s receipt tape. That creepy bastard stood there for at least ten seconds, staring at me. When I turned to him, he merely said, “I’ll remember you.” Feeling thoroughly creeped out, I told the man my name – anything to make him leave – and watched as he stormed off, telling my bagger I’d be “gone by the end of the week.” 

Needless to say, this was not a high point for my faith in humanity. I knew I’d only been doing my job, though, so I tried not to think about it.

A few weeks later, I was running cashier breaks, hopping from one register to another. I sent another employee on her break, soon noticing the old man next in line looked eerily familiar to the one I’d had that bizarre encounter with. Not sure it was him (or not caring), I did my best to smile and do my job as normal. The transaction went smoothly right up until the end, when he said something I never would have seen coming.

“I want to tell you I’m sorry.” I must have looked as shocked as I felt, because the gentleman continued, “The last time, you and I had a problem, and I just wanted you to know it wasn’t you, it was me.” Now, I’m used to people complaining and treating me like their damn servant. It’s the service industry – the adults will throw tantrums just as quickly as the kids in their carts wanting stickers. I had never heard one of them actually apologize until this day. I could hardly believe it, but I told the man I really appreciated it. He wasn’t finished, though.

“My son was killed in Afghanistan, and I’d just gotten the phone call. I had no business taking it out on you, and I guarantee it won’t happen again.” I was speechless, but managed to thank him and express my sympathies for his loss. He walked away, thanking the bagger almost as sincerely as he had apologized to me. Teeny tiny bit of faith in humanity had been restored. I couldn’t believe it.

We don’t know what people are going through or why they do the things they do. I know it’s hard to keep in mind, especially when people treat us badly and our own sense of self knows we don’t deserve it.

We just have to keep in mind that everyone we meet has lost something, wants something, and probably needs something. We’re all human, and that makes us all vulnerable and (sometimes blatantly) less than perfect. We are all just trying to survive, knowing we will inevitably fail in the end. But we try, anyway. We get up every day and handle things the best way we know how with what resources we have. While we may royally screw it up sometimes, the point is that we’re all trying. 

I’m not talking about patterns of abuse here. I’m talking about those everyday mistakes. When your little sister breaks something. When your lover says something careless. When people in your life slip into survival mode and do something that hurts you. That’s when it’s important to remember how fragile we all are and, if you can, to find forgiveness for that person. 

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