***This post was written last year, saved as a draft and forgotten. Two days ago, the scene was eerily repeated almost to the smallest detail. Same checker, elderly man ahead of me in line with is cap identifying him as a Korean war veteran. The difference in the situation this year is that last year's encounter had prepared me to be grateful and expressive. I stood there a person changed by a year of living, learning and listening. ***
Last night, two hours and thirty minutes into overtime at the end of one of my most emotionally draining workdays in a long time, I had one work-related stop to make before I could settle into my evening at home.
I walked into the most inconveniently located market in existence with nothing but thoughts of fuzzy socks,pajamas, my couch, hot tea and the next episode of Life Unexpected that were all waiting at the end of this errand. I approached the check stand with only one person in front of me, a nondescript man of advanced years. I found myself twisting the tie on my dress...a sure sign that I'm impatient and something is about to REALLY get on my nerves.
The checker was Middle Eastern man with a heavy accent that made his tongue trip and tangle over his words. The customer he was speaking to was hard of hearing. They were having trouble communicating and the customer was reaching the end of his patience...worse than me and my twisting. The checker slowed down, but he slowed his actions as well as his words and that did not sit well with the impatience brewing in his line. Aeons later, he was finally making change and handed it to the man in front of me in line. When he placed the last coin in the older man's hand, he used both of his hands to clasp the man's hand in his. He nodded his head toward the older man's hat and said, very very slowly and obviously as clearly as he possibly could, "I will probably not see you tomorrow so I would like to say thank you today for everything you have done to ensure this is a country of freedom and promise and hope." He was smiling and glossy-eyed and held the man's hand for just a beat longer than he spoke.
I couldn't help my curiosity and am pretty ashamed that I didn't have a clue why he was talking about "tomorrow." When the other customer turned to me and I saw his VFW hat with pins and patches I recognized but don't understand, I was doubly ashamed. The checker obviously DID understand...and dismantled every misconception I had up until that moment one feeling, one realization, one bit of awe at a time. He might be Middle Eastern and trip over our language, but he was very obviously twice the American I could ever hope to be.
I celebrate in my heart today every altruistic act of those serving our military, today and yesterday...to protect and ensure the right to freedom, promise and hope for a country full of people who might or might not understand or appreciate...might even protest what they are doing. These men and women are of the utmost integrity...doing what they believe is right despite the actions or beliefs of others...despite the ignorance of a tired, impatient, oblivious girl in a small town at an inconveniently located market needing to be reminded of their sacrifice by a Middle Eastern man who knew better than to take it for granted.