Every encounter counts

The young woman looked up from bagging our groceries, brushed the hair off her face  and heaved a sigh. She looked out on a sea of loaded shopping carts topped with anxious faces, impatient expressions. I glanced at her name tag and spoke.

“Going to be a long day, Sandy. We’re sorry to be adding to your troubles.” She didn’t reply, but as her eyes met mine, I could see her face relax a bit. The trace of a smile flickered as she reached for a can of soup and resumed bagging our groceries.

Weather forecasters on television warned us that snow is coming, not today, but arriving late tomorrow, maybe up to 6 inches, they predict, possibly less than that. Immediately, our neighbors rushed to the grocery store to load up on milk, bread and other provisions, and to hardware stores and home improvement centers for rock salt, shovels and sleds. Panic might be too strong a word, but a level of anxiety rules, it’s fair to say. Betsy and I simply were doing our regular weekly grocery shopping and got caught up in the crowds.

So did Sandy and her fellow workers. That’s why I spoke, trying to cheer her a bit, maybe take the edge off a long, tough day.

My late brother Jack taught me this. A former detective who worked mainly with juveniles, devoted father of five, Jack liked to tease and flirt a little with the people he met, especially those he encountered working in humdrum, thankless jobs, people whose faces we tend to ignore as we hurriedly conduct our business and go on our way. Jack saw them as real people. He liked to make eye contact and say a kind word. More often than not, he was rewarded with a grateful smile.

Since watching him as a kid, I have tried to do the same. I try to remember that every encounter is an opportunity. Every one of them.

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