If I ever lose it completely in a public setting, it will be in a Superstore. The motion sensing lights that appear as you pass the frozen peas, the carts abandoned in the middle of every aisle and the leaning towers of toilet paper and apple juice jugs make me itchy and mean, particularly during the holiday season.
By contrast, being in the company of children usually makes me less mean. I think children are superior to adults in nearly every way. They are more interesting, for one thing. And cuter. And funnier. Except when they are in large superstores before dinnertime. Then, not so much.
Now, don’t get me wrong or think I’m being all judge-y. I’m not. I raised two of these complicated little buggers myself, and remember the years when taking them anywhere in public when they were hungry or tired could turn into a scene from a disaster movie real fast. But I was a quick study and while I didn’t know much as a young mom, it didn’t take more than one or two of these episodes to learn that what my little ones didn’t need one bit was to be taken to a Superstore at dinnertime, buckled into a shopping cart with their snowsuits zipped up to their necks, and wheeled through aisles of toys I wasn’t planning to buy.
These days, whenever I am in a store and I hear a small child teetering on the edge of reason in the toy aisle, I get irritated not with the child, but with the red-faced adult pushing the cart. I have to resist the urge to walk up to complete strangers, smack them and say, “what were you THINKING???? I mean, really. You had to do this today? Now? Take that poor child home and feed him supper!!” At times like this, I am my smallest, meanest, itchiest self because losing faith in humanity never feels very good, especially with Christmas carols playing in the background.
But today, in this season of silent nights and babies in mangers, as I stood listening to a really bad rendition of The Little Drummer Boy over the loudspeakers and the live, back-up chorus of miserable, hot, strung out toddlers in shopping carts, I noticed a little boy and his young mom in front of me in the check out line. He was clutching a blue toy truck entombed in a plastic case, and he was beaming. Little rays of happiness were shooting out of his eyes. He was vibrating and joyful. When I looked at him, I swear I heard angels singing.
The clerk finished scanning everything else in his mom’s cart, and then stood there waiting to scan his treasure. It was clear that he didn’t understand why he was being asked to give up his toy. He clutched it a little tighter and started backing away from the lady in the blue vest who was asking him to hand it over. For a second, his lower lip started to tremble. I held my breath, waiting for the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then, the cashier did the most amazing thing. She stopped what she was doing and came from behind the counter. Then, she knelt in front of him and explained that she just needed to take it for a minute. The Little Superstore Dude looked unconvinced. She promised he could have it right back.
Then, I saw it. Faith. In a stranger. Right there, on the face of a four-year old with a plastic pod full of wonderfulness. He looked at the truck. He looked up at the cashier. And then, he handed it over. There were no tears. There was no tantrum. He stood there watching, waiting for her to make good on her promise.
“Beep” said the scanner. “Here you go!” said the lady in the blue vest, as she handed the toy back to the small boy filled with faith. He looked at the lady in the blue vest who had kept this most wonderful promise and smiled. And then he thanked her.
The cashier smiled. Mom smiled. I smiled.
Faith. In what is seen, and unseen.
A little faith in humanity goes a long way, doesn’t it? Particularly at this time of year. Sometimes, if we are paying attention, we find it in the strangest places.