I saw you. You didn’t think I did because I was busy putting grocery bags in my cart and talking with the young man at the register. I saw you glance down at the sign taped at the end of the conveyor belt that said “trainee.” I saw you turn away even though the belt was empty, and I was nearly finished. I suspect you turned away because when you heard the cashier speaking, you thought it best not to choose this lane, even if it meant waiting longer somewhere else. Honestly, I hesitated for a moment, too.
The young man at the register had a significant speech impediment and some other physical challenges. In the time it took for him to expertly check out my groceries, we had a wonderful conversation. He was a student at Johnson and Wales University studying hospitality management and was in the area for a summer internship with Hershey enterprises. He told me he had just interviewed the new incoming coach of the Hershey Bears and that based on his presentation in a seminar, he was invited to meet with the CEO of Hershey. He said it took him a while to find his way through college as well as to be hired by this particular store chain, but he persevered and was obviously making a success of his life.
It’s so easy to pass by the opportunity to learn from someone different from us, to make assumptions and to judge based on what we see or think we see. I’ve been guilty of it many times in my life, but I can honestly say that is changing for me. I am looking for ways to get my head out of my white, privileged bubble and see the world from the perspective of those who are different from me.
At the same time, I am sickened by the constant barrage of cruelty directed at that with which we don’t agree or perhaps, don’t understand. Laughing emojis in response to legitimate information about the covid vaccine. The hurtful words and intentional deception coming from the mouths of politicians. The comments about Dr. Rachel Levine. A large sign displayed in someone’s front yard with President Biden pictured in the circle that used to end Bugs Bunny cartoons saying “Th- th- that-s all folks.” And sometimes the cruelty is insidious and subtle –the knowing glance and the whispered aside at the cocktail party or the conference table that will determine who’s hired and who’s fired.
I’ve always been one to keep my mouth shut because it just fans the flames of divisiveness, especially online. We’re all picking our way along paths filled with social and political landmines. But if I’m uncomfortable or offended by something expressed to me personally, I am now more likely to respond. There have been times when I deeply regret taking the safe road and not speaking up for what I believed to be right. Those experiences taught me it’s okay to push back, even at the risk of changing how I am perceived by others. And sometimes pushing back simply means choosing a different lane at the grocery store and listening to someone’s story.