Throughout the month of December the stress of the Christmas holiday hangs over my head like a tinseled guillotine.
Every bell ringing volunteer who brightly greets me at the grocery store reminds me that I haven’t bought presents, haven’t put up the tree, haven’t scheduled a family Christmas get together. A couple of weeks ago when I went to the grocery store I completely avoided eye contact with the bell ringer. I was not in the Christmas spirit at all.
At the checkout I noticed that the young female bagger had put the package of fresh Alaskan salmon on the bottom of the grocery sack and loaded a bunch of stuff on top of it. OMG! I had a control freak moment and dove into the sack to rescue the fish. As I did so, I made a snarky comment about her bagging skills.
Her face looked tired, but her eyes, oh, they looked hurt. I was mortified. Why hadn’t I kept my mouth shut and rearranged the sack when I got to the car? It was only fish. I was going to eat it, not enter it into a contest.
As I left the checkout, I started to go back to apologize, but she was busy with the next customer. I decided to call the store when I got home, explain what happened and ask someone to give her my apology. But what if bagging fish on the bottom WAS a bad thing? I didn’t want get her fired, so I didn’t call.
The following week I was at the grocery store again and guess who was bagging my groceries? I could finally apologize. I swiped my debit card as I was obsessing over what to say to her and accidentally pressed the “yes” button for “cash back”. I was flustered so rather than canceling the transaction I just selected $10 so I could get to the next screen. Then I moved to the end of the checkout and spoke quietly with the bagger.
“Last week I jumped at you for putting salmon on the bottom of the bag and I want to apologize. It wouldn’t have hurt the fish to be on the bottom. I’m sorry for how I acted.”
“That’s okay,” she smiled. She looked more rested that the week before.
I got my cash and store receipt and started to shove the $10 into my purse, when a thought occurred to me. “Can you accept tips?” I asked.
“No, we aren’t allowed.”
“That’s too bad. I was going to give you this $10. You deserve it for the way I acted.”
“Thank you, but it’s okay.”
“Merry Christmas,” she replied.
Even though the Christmas tree still wasn’t up, the presents weren’t purchased and the family wasn’t going to be together this year, I was suddenly feeling – Christmassy! That’s when I remembered that the spirit of Christmas has never been about decorating, cooking and shopping. The spirit of Christmas is acts of kindness. Not just kindness to those who bag my groceries the way I would do it myself or kindness to those who believe the same way I do. Kindness should never have conditions.
As I left the store the $10 bill felt wrong in my hand, as if it wasn’t mine to keep. I folded it into a small square and slipped in into the small crisscross slot of the red Salvation Army bucket. The bell ringer thanked me with a friendly “Merry Christmas” and I headed home to decorate the tree, order gifts online (books) and cook salmon.