(Not So) Common Sense
It’s all in the eye of the beholder
By Carole Townsend
I had my eyes opened for me the other day, and by a most unlikely person. I neglected to thank her for the deed at the time, but I’d like to do so now.
First, a little background is in order, so that my “thank you” will make sense to anyone who might happen to read it.
I was having one of THOSE Mondays. You know the kind of Monday I mean – the kind that makes you want to crawl back into bed before noon and wait it out, sleeping or mindlessly watching old Andy Griffith reruns and sucking your thumb until Tuesday shows its promising face. My husband and I had overslept, we were out of coffee, and we were out of dog food. Our Chihuahua decided to express her displeasure with the grocery situation by leaving us a lovely present on the carpet at the top of the stairs.
I got in my car to head to the grocery store to get our magic morning elixir (and a 50 lb. bag of dog food) - so that I could feed the dogs, so that I could get to the gym – and I made a quick mental note that I had neither bothered to brush my hair, nor had I applied even a hint of makeup. I also saw that the gas gauge on my car was on “E.” My anxiety level notched its way on up to “F.”
I drove straight to the filling station, gassed up my car for a cool $40.00 (after the “automatic” gas pump advised me to PLEASE SEE ATTENDANT for no apparent reason), then whipped my car into a parking spot at the supermarket. I can only imagine the look on my face as I entered through the automatic doors and headed straight to the overpriced in-store coffee shop, ordering a Venti Gimme-Your-Best-Shot cup of the Dark Mother. No sooner had my gallon of coffee been brewed and paid for, I heard a cheerful “Carole? Carole Townsend?” from behind me. My stomach tightened; it never fails, does it? Run to the corner store for a couple of things after having just rolled out of bed, and you’ll run into someone you know.
This particular someone was president of PTA all the years our kids were in school. She was team mom for our son’s football team, and she coached our daughter’s cheer squad for a year or two. Stepford Wife? She was the prototype. I turned and managed a weak smile, gazing into her perfectly-made-up face and freshly coiffed hair. I saw the look of surprise on her face. I know she wanted to ask me if I had picked up a raging drug or alcohol habit since our kids graduated, but she didn’t. I almost wish she had. I would have said “yes.” It would have given me an excuse for my appearance.
“How are you?” I asked, not that I had to ask. She proceeded to tell me how her children had all graduated ivy league schools, married other overachievers and each had 2.3 perfect little babies of their own. I smiled indulgently, waited for her to take a breath in between gold-plated sentences, and told her I had to run along, but it was so nice to see her. Inside, I was now both mortified and anxious.
Gripping my coffee cup and sipping it as though my life depended on what came out of it, I steered my wobbly shopping cart down the coffee aisle, selected our favorite brand of java, then found my way over to the pet products aisle. Once I had wrestled a bag of dog food the size of a sixth grader into the cart, I wheeled on over to the checkout aisle.
Great. Twenty-six lanes, and one cashier open. Why do they do that? Anxiety level: over-the-top. I positioned my cart in line and stood there, impatiently sipping, tapping my foot, and uttering the occasional sigh.
A minute passed, then two. I stared at the woman ahead of me in the checkout line. Sometimes we think that rudeness, and a little impatience, hurry things along. What I saw got my attention like the slap in the face that I probably deserved by that point. The woman, well in to her eighties if I had to guess, was fumbling through her wallet. As she found change here and there at the bottom of her purse, she gingerly laid it on the counter for the casher to add up. During this painfully slow process, the cashier chewed and popped her wad of gum, expectantly holding her hand out.
I didn’t see what the older woman’s total was, but she was trying to buy green beans, a small container of milk, and a bottle of generic Tylenol. Judging by the amount of change she had produced from her purse, she was a long way from getting a receipt and a “thank you” from the cashier.
I have no idea why, but the sight of that woman standing there and scraping together all that she obviously had with her, for whatever reason, smacked me right between the eyes. How dare I take for granted what was really a beautiful morning, which had gotten off track simply because of my own oversights? How dare I not appreciate all of the blessings that I currently enjoy, including the ability to pay for coffee and dog food without worrying about holding up the line, hoping I had enough change to cover my purchases?
All of a sudden, I felt very ashamed of myself.
One of the store managers was supervising the whole scene, probably in an attempt to hurry things along. Her eyes met mine, and I managed to get her attention. Must’ve been my hair; I was channeling Don King that morning.
I will not share what I did then, because I don’t think kindnesses should be advertised, but I will say that I felt better than I have felt in a long time as I loaded my two purchases into the back of my car that morning. I smiled, and for the first time that day. I felt grateful, and gratitude goes a long way toward happiness.
We really need very little, isn’t that true? My family and I are rich in many ways, and I shouldn’t lose sight of that just because I get irritated at silly circumstances. We could lose everything tomorrow; none of us should ever lose sight of that fact, but for today anyway, we are rich beyond measure. We are healthy, we are able to work, and if we see someone in need, we can help. And that is what it is to be truly rich.
To the sweet lady who was in front of me in line that morning, I offer my sincerest thanks. I have no idea who you are, and I have no idea whether you left the store in a brand new Cadillac or in an old rust bucket. I don’t know whether you didn’t have enough money for your purchases, or whether you simply left your money at home. It doesn’t matter.
You helped me more than you can possibly know.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published April 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her other three books are written with Southern humor. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, children, the family and living in her beloved South. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.