Stand By, or Step Out and Speak Up?

The cashier at WalMart cried yesterday.

I stopped by to pick up a few items and went through the express checkout lane.

And the cashier was crying.  Silent tears were streaming down her face and once in a while she’d swipe at them with the back of her hand.

She kept working, quickly dragging each item across the scanner and bagging it up, while the tears continued to fall.

And I just stood there, not knowing what to do.

For those few minutes there was a war inside my mind.  I didn’t know this girl and hadn’t seen her before, or hadn’t noticed if I did see her.  Do I pretend I don’t see the tears?  Several other people had gone through her line before me and none of them seemed to notice her distress, or at least they didn’t comment on it.  She’s almost finished with my order and I can move on.  Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut and give her her privacy.

Or do I say something?  What do I say?  Should I offer a hug?  A prayer?  What if it makes her cry harder?  What if it makes me cry?  What if I embarrass her by commenting?  What if talking to her opens up a big ol’ can of worms I’m not ready for?  What if she tells me a sob story that then makes me feel obligated to help in some way?  What if speaking up just makes things all messy?

What do you do in a case like that?  Do you just bite your lip and try to get out as quickly as possible?  Or do you step in?

I don’t think we serve a God Who expects us to stay out of the fray.  He calls on us to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves.  He expects us to get down in the muck if necessary.  To get real, and to get our hands dirty.  We are not called to be bystanders who just watch the parade of life go past us as we stare after it.

Because life is messy, isn’t it?  People like us aren’t perfect and sometimes we make emotional messes that aren’t easily mopped up with an apology.  Sometimes real people get into situations that can’t be neatly resolved and tied up with a pretty bow.  Real people sometimes need real help and that might require doing real work, like clearing brush, or doing chores, or running errands or listening without judgement.  That last one is a hard one, isn’t it?  Real people get sick physically and emotionally and they need tending to, and we’re the very ones God calls to do that.

How many time do we sit on the sidelines of our neighbors’ lives?  We feel like we’re bystanders and we don’t have any business imposing ourselves on someone else.  Or maybe that’s just me.  All too often I let my concern about being seen as an imposition keep me from reaching out, and I don’t think that’s really what God had in mind for me.  Isn’t it worth the risk to my imagined reputation to speak up?  I think I’d rather be seen as a nosy buttinski than duck my head and let an opportunity to show His love slip away without at least looking a hurting soul in the eyes and letting them know they’ve been seen.

Why do we do that – sit on the sidelines and refuse to engage?  The world around us makes it fairly easy to walk through it without making any real contact, even with the very ones who share our homes.  There are screens everywhere to look at, from huge TV screens to the smallest ones that fit in your hand, and staring at those means we don’t have to meet the gaze of another person, who might – mercy save us! – have needs that we might be able to address.  It just feels safer in our little cocoons, where no one asks much of us. Oh sure, we say, we connect with people all the time online.  Well I say that has its place, but it doesn’t qualify as true connection.  For that you need “face time”.  I think the human race has lost something with our dependence on the connections we find online.  But I digress.

I was a bystander yesterday and I had a choice to make.  I could stand by and walk away without entering into this girl’s distress, or I could step out and speak up.

So I did it, the barest minimum:  I asked her if she was OK. She nodded her head, even though it was obvious that she wasn’t.  Then I asked her if I could do anything for her, and she shook her head “no”.  She didn’t look me in the eye at all.

And then it was over.  That was the end of our interaction, because my order was done and there were others behind me in line. 

I wish I could have done more.  There was a part of me that wanted to run around the counter and give her a hug, and I blame that on my Allume sisters.  (you know who you are, Tonya)  I did pray for her, because as we all know God can do WAY more than any of us can.  I’m not sure what I could have done differently.  I didn’t even have a tissue to offer her.  It was truly an clumsy attempt to show some love.

But I hope she felt like someone cared at least a little bit yesterday.

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3 thoughts on “Stand By, or Step Out and Speak Up?

  1. I’m so glad you answered God when he gave you the nudge to speak. Maybe you’ll see this cashier again on your next trip and you can let her know you still care. I’m new to your blog, love it! I’m from the coastal south, as well.

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