I stood in a long line at Sam’s Club the other day, waiting to place my items on the conveyor belt. It was Saturday, but I felt weary from a long week and in between scrolling messages on my phone, I reviewed a mental check list of all that I needed to do that day. As the line progressed, I became aware of the cashier’s voice, speaking to the customers.
“You ok, Miss Cheryl?” he asked. “You seem awfully quiet today.”
My first thought was, “How often does this woman come to Sam’s Club??”
My second thought, after looking at Cheryl, was “She does look kind of sad and tired.”
I watched as she half-smiled and nodded and told the cashier that she was doing ok. His name was Carl.
He grinned her way and said, “Ok. I hope so. I don’t like to see my friend not acting like herself.”
Her smile grew bigger, they talked for a quick minute, and she looked a little less weary as she took her receipt to leave.
I surmised that Carl must have just known Cheryl outside of work until I heard him call another customer by name, asking them something specific about their week.
I liked him. And when it was my turn, I experienced Carl’s kindness in the same way. He didn’t seem rushed or annoyed to be there and in a matter of minutes, I felt less anxious about my long list and just kind of enjoyed the moment. More than anything, I enjoyed watching Carl make people feel welcome in the middle a busy store.
It seemed that Carl’s goal wasn’t just about scanning items and getting through his day, but more about connecting with the people along his path. (and just a side note, he was still really efficient at getting everyone through the long line.)
As I left, I felt a little lighter, a little more content, a little less self-absorbed and rushed.
I thought about this as I drove home. I thought about how I have been told that our thoughts shape our day and how what we think about is a choice and how we can choose to think negative thoughts or positive thoughts and how important all of that is.
I believe that is true for the most part. It’s amazing to me how two people can walk through similar situations and one is drowning in negativity and can’t quite embrace their circumstances, while another sees the glass as half full and experiences joy regardless of their pain or struggle. I always want to be THAT person, but often find myself slipping into the sludge of self-defeat and weariness.
And on the sludge-filled days, I really struggle to speak truth to myself. It isn’t that I don’t want to; It just feels like a struggle.
I have had several days in recent weeks of just feeling weary. Life will do that sometimes, right?
Here is what I have noticed recently though.
When I have encountered joyful people on days like this, my own demeanor has been changed.
And when I say, “joyful people,” I don’t mean those people who hold poms poms in your face and jump up and down and say, “Ohhhhh! It’s a great day! It’s a great day! Yay!!”
I mean people like Carl. People who take the time to see others and make an effort to connect.
I am guessing that Cheryl, that woman in line ahead of me, left Sam’s Club feeling different than when she arrived. I could see it on her face.
Recently, I was on an airplane, heading home after a trip to be with my mom who has been ill. To be honest, I was exhausted both emotionally and physically and could have easily closed my eyes and slipped deeper into my sadness. But then this couple, Cara and Kevin, asked the “Are these seats taken,” question and their kindness and joy transformed the weight of the burden I carried. They didn’t know it. They weren’t trying to share three points with me about how to feel better; they were just present and easy to be with and their joy was contagious. They asked questions, but not in an overbearing way. If I am honest, I haven’t wanted to have a conversation on an airplane in a really long time. But that young couple made a difference in my day just by being present and sharing their joy. For a little while, I forgot about my exhaustion.
Another day at church, I sat down next to two college students I know and we caught up and laughed and connected for awhile. It wasn’t a complicated conversation. It was just time to connect. To not rush. To ask a few questions and to give each other a hug. We didn’t solve a list of problems, but we inched closer to joy together and it changed the course of my day.
Yes, we can strive to think truth and think positive thoughts, but I really don’t know how effective that is without community. Without human connection.
Life is filled with painful circumstances. But here is something I know. There are good days too. What if on those good days, we ask the Lord to show us who is in a rut or who is struggling or who might need someone to ask if they are doing ok today? You never know what a difference it might make. For both of you.
Whenever I talk to one of my dear friends, I almost always end the conversation with “I feel so much better after talking to you.” I think she would say the same thing. She always knows when I am teetering around the sludge and she encourages me to talk about it. We both have learned that vulnerability and authentic connection usually helps to detour those spiraling thought patterns that try to lure us into the pit.
It can be so easy to forget just how much we need each other.
Thanks for the reminder, Carl.