Some of my deepest learnings have been at store checkout lines. In that moment of waiting for the cashier, I have seen the best and worst of humanity. I remember the mother who was so exasperated with her life that when her three-year-old began to cry about not getting a candy bar, she just snapped and yelled at her child to “just shut up.” Everyone turned and gave her a judging look. She was embarrassed and humiliated, which just made her already difficult life all the more difficult. I did my best not to judge her in that moment – although it wasn’t easy – and to recite silently the loving kindness mantra: “May you find loving kindness.” As soon as she was at the register, I made funny faces at her child who eventually smiled.
It is so hard not to treat people as obstacles in our way, so hard to see them as people going through their lives with many of the same struggles and joys we do. One cashier in particular seemed unusually hostile to me and others. At first I tried to ignore her comments, hoping just to get through the line without incident and get on with my day. When it was my turn, I said almost nothing to her, completed the transaction and went on my way.
On the way home I remembered what the great Jewish theologian Martin Buber once taught. The most essential relationship we can have is with another as a person, to treat another as God would treat us, as a “Thou.” The essence of our humanity is to treat another not as a means to an end – an “It” – but rather as another end in and of herself. In other words to move from an “I-It” relationship to an “I-Thou” relationship. For Buber, remembering to see others as the “Thous” relating to me as the “I,” reminds us of what essentially makes us the same, and therefore holy.
So next time you are in a store line and feeling annoyed at how long this is taking, remember that there are others – Thous – who are doing the best they can with the life they have been given. Afford them a quiet respect for what you don’t know about their lives, and offer them some loving kindness with some words and maybe a smile. For me, I will continue to make funny faces at young children, whether they smile or not.
See you in church, Rev. John