Many years ago, when I first moved to the United States, I was “privileged” to work in a grocery and retail store. I held down two part time jobs and catching the bus to and from work was a whole production (more about that later). At the time, I considered this period one of the low points in my life because I couldn’t fathom how a person with a graduate degree would have to work in a grocery store. This was clearly not what my plan to freedom was supposed to entail. Here I was, feeling trapped by the very system that I had hoped would set me free. Looking back, I realize now that I could not have had a better humbling experience.
I met many people and encountered diverse situations that challenged me immensely. As a check-out -cashier at the grocery store, I learnt very quickly that although people look “put together” on the outside, many are struggling internally with no hope for the future. From the random inexplicable outbursts to the ridiculous request of customers, I found that peace of mind and real happiness eludes many. I decided then that no matter what happens, I would try not to get caught up in the rat race to the extent that I begin to lose my mind and humanity. This lesson continues to serve me well.
The other thing I gleaned was from observing people’s behavior at the store. You can learn so much from careful observation. They were customers who spent no more than 15 minutes at the store because they knew what they wanted. They were in and out in a jiffy and were unperturbed by price points. Another group spent a longer time in the store and were somewhat conscious of price. This set of folks knew what they wanted but didn’t mind picking up random items that were on sale. Then there were the last group of people: I call them the overly budget-conscious folks. They are the ones that truly got my attention and sympathy.
Although they were certain on what to purchase, they lacked the funds to pay for them. I recall customers coming up to my checkout lane and asking that I stop ringing up items once I reached a certain amount. They would arrange their selected items in order of high priority and I would carefully scan until I got to the requested amount. Whatever did not fit into their budget had to be left behind even if they needed it. There were moments I had to delete a few scanned items in order for a transaction to go through. It was heartbreaking to watch but such is the reality of life. Truth is, the fact that you need something, does not always mean that you will have it. One has to pray that good health, favor and opportunity remain your close allies because the absence of these could set you on a wild goose chase.
I recall working with an elderly Caucasian lady at a retail store. O, how I loved Connie. She has since passed on to life eternal, and I miss her dearly. She was one of the reasons I looked forward to going to work. She never gave me money or material stuff, all she did was to treat me like a human being and it was good enough for me. They say money “answereth all things” but I can assure you that there are some things that money simply cannot buy. She taught me one of life’s important lessons: treat everyone you meet the same way you would like to be treated. The satisfaction from being viewed and treated as a human being is priceless. Who would have thought that my experience at a grocery and retail store would equip me for me for the journey ahead? There have been many twists and turns since then but those lessons have always stayed with me.
We must pay attention to the many lessons life brings our way. Sometimes, these lessons occur in the littlest and unlikeliest of places where no one else is watching; don’t ignore them. Instead, utilize them to propel you towards a better future. So wherever you are and in all you do, keep plugging away, keep inching forward.