Socks, and Recognizing the Injustice Within Myself
In the midst of running some other HOMEpdx errands, I stopped to buy some socks today. This is something we do often, as socks are something our friends living outside need, and something we try to have on hand as much as possible. So early this afternoon I find myself pulling into the Wal-Mart parking lot in search of these much needed items. For the record, I really hate Wal-Mart; from how it treats it’s employees, to how it treats the environment. But the reality is we can get socks for half the price of anywhere else in Portland, and when it comes to twice as many of our friends being able to have clean feet, we often buy from them when we need more socks for our money.
Having found the socks I need, I walk up to the checkout, relieved that there is only one person in front of me. At least I won’t have to spend any more time in Wal-Mart than I have to. But then the inevitable happens. The person in front of me has multiple coupons, and the older lady who is cashiering can’t figure out how to ring them up. She grows more and more frustrated, punching buttons and undoing things, a hopeless look growing on her face. My frustration grew along with hers. It can’t be that hard, can it? It was just a few coupons. Why doesn’t she call over some help? I am getting angry. Doesn’t she know that I have more errands today, and that I have to be back home to cook some food for my friends who live outside? Doesn’t she know that she is hindering the good work I need to do today?
In the midst of my interior fit, a sudden calm comes over me. A little voice inside me says, “Just stop and listen.” And so I do. The older cashier is almost in tears now, and is calling her manager to come up and help. As the manager is on his way, I hear her tell the couple with the coupons how she got almost no sleep last night, as she has been sleeping worse and worse. She also tells them that if she makes another mistake with a coupon, she might get fired. And the whole time, with tears forming in her eyes, she continues to apologize to the couple.
I then realized that I was still angry, but not at the cashier. I was angry at our culture, that says it is ok that people who are old need to work so hard, with the threat of getting fired looming over them for a small mistake. I was angry that so many depended on an unethical and unjust company like Wal-Mart because they can’t afford to shop in their neighborhood. I have friends who take the bus for and hour and a half to get to Wal-Mart because they can’t afford the stores near them. And I was angry that I failed to recognize that injustice I see in downtown Portland everyday, and the injustice that makes Wal-Mart necessary, are connected.
And I also was angry with myself. I was angry that I was getting mad at a woman who had obviously had a difficult day because she was holding up the work I needed to do. I was angry that I had let myself believe that what I was doing was more important than recognizing someone who was hurting and treating them with respect. And I was angry that the very things I try to teach at HOMEpdx, that everyone is made in God’s image and deserving of love, that everyone has a story and I get to listen and learn without judging, especially when they annoy me, were the very things I was not going to offer this woman.
So I didn’t get out of line. I stayed for the five minutes it took her to get her manager over and fix the problem. And when it was my turn, I smiled, and when she was done ringing up the socks I smiled again and said thank you. She apologized for it taking so long, and I just said no worries, and that I hoped she had a good rest of her day.
Now I don’t think I helped solve any of the large issues of injustice in the world. But I think I took a small step toward solving some injustice within myself. I realized the things that make me so angry at HOMEpdx, when people walk by our friends living outside and ignore them and treat them as less than human because they are an annoyance in their daily routine, are things that I am just as capable of doing elsewhere in my life. And the more I practice seeing people in all areas of my life as people made in the image of God and worthy of love and respect, the better person I will be to my neighbors, my family, and my friends living outside.