As a cashier for a large discount firm, and one of my duties is to take care of the “self check-out” registers. There is *one* cashier for *four* registers, which can be very stressful. The registers are fairly easy to use, but the customer must follow written instructions. Or, spoken instructions begin if the sequence of events isn’t properly followed. Often, they aren’t followed, and the customer becomes angry — with me!
One evening in spring 2005 was particularly trying, many customers each purchasing many items through these lines. I found myself having to force my smile, and my hands were clenched into fists in my vest pockets. As I dashed from one “crisis” to another, my feet hurt and my head began to ache.
All I could see was how stupid my customers were. Why couldn’t they simply follow the directions?? “Scan the item and place it in the bag.” How tough is that? I was ready to scream!
Suddenly, a small hand tugged at my vest. I looked down, my smile still forced, and was greeted with a genuine smile from a little boy, maybe four or five years old. Unlike many of children who pass through my lines, this child had stayed close to his father and older brother, and wasn’t “getting into” things. He held out his hand and said, “This is for you!” and gave me… a rock.
Nothing special, just a piece of gravel, slightly smaller than a golf ball, gray and a little dusty, and very warm from being clutched in this small child’s fingers. I gave him a real smile in return. I thanked him, and he went back to his father.
When his father was putting the last bag in his basket, and the boy was busy with his older brother, I asked him if the rock was special and if it needed to be returned. He shook his head and smiled. “It’s just a rock from our driveway. We’ve got a million of them.” The family finished their transaction and left.
As I held that rock in my hand, I began to relax, and was able to look at my customers in more charitable light. My smile was real, and my tired feet didn’t hurt as much. I finished the long shift in a much better mood than I had started it.
I keep that rock in my vest pocket. Any time I feel frustrated, I still clench my fists and put them in my pockets. Where I encounter: The Rock. It always makes me smile, and I can go on much more easily.
I’m sure the boy and his family have been in many times since then, but I would never be able to recognize them. There are simply too many faces going through my line every day. But I will remember that little boy and his act of kindness much longer than I have that rock in my pocket.