I was waiting in the express checkout lane of my local grocery store. The young woman ahead of me continued to swipe her debit card. It was declined each time.
She didn’t speak much English.
The clerk was becoming frustrated that she could not understand what he kept saying to her. There were insufficient funds to cover her modest purchases. These purchases included a beautifully decorated birthday cake for her young son, who stood at her side. She also was buying a large box of popcorn chicken. These two items were her birthday meal for the both of them.
I had spotted this family in the store earlier, as I did my own shopping. They were at the bakery section. The mother was kissing and hugging her son; he was very excited to see his birthday cake. When the bakery clerk brought it out, the cake was so high that the cake box wouldn’t shut. The cake was magnificent. I then watched her go to the prepared foods section to purchase the chicken pieces.
Nothing more. Just those two items.
Anyone watching the young mother and son could tell what was going on. No translation needed. Family, no matter how small. Love that was large. I smiled.
I’ve been there myself.
Now I stood behind the mother and son in that checkout line, waiting for my turn, Now I understood why I was there. At that point in time. Next in line.
I didn’t hesitate.
I caught the checkout clerk’s eye. He knew me. I was a regular at the store. All I did was slowly – imperceptibly – nod my head. I silently spoke the works: “I’ve got this.”
The clerk asked the young mother to swipe her debit card again. The clerk told her it worked! All was taken care of.
She didn’t understand what he was telling her. She looked at the clerk. Then she looked at me.
I shrugged my shoulders and smiled in “ignorance.”
Her transaction was completed. The clerk handed her the incomplete transaction “receipt.” The young woman and her son left with their birthday feast.
After they left the store, the clerk thanked me for my action. He had wanted to do the same thing, but knew he would get in trouble with his bosses. He was paralyzed about what to do. That’s when our eyes met and our plan was completed.
He instantaneously figured out how to add her purchases to my own invoice without her ever knowing what just happened. Without embarrassing her. Without humiliating her.
There was no fanfare announcement to the rest of the folks who continued to wait patiently in line, some oblivious to what had just occurred. No YouTube recording to splash on the Internet.
Just a simple and heartfelt “thank you” offered between us both.
You never know when you are going to be called upon to open your heart to people you don’t know. People who may make you feel uncomfortable. People who don’t look like you, talk like you, think like you.
When you are present in the moment, instead of operating in autopilot mode, you are conscious of the power we all have as human beings. To love each other. To be kind to each other. To be empathetic with each other.
I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving. I am grateful for our ongoing relationship with each other, which grows over the years. I have learned so much from each of you.
I challenge you to be present, if you are called upon to help others. Not just today. Every day. We all have simple gifts to share.
I can guarantee you won’t know when you will be called. I also can guarantee you will not mistake the invitation.
Answer the call. Take action.
Babette N. Ten Haken is a management strategist and team-building leadership coach, when she isn’t grocery shopping. She helps teams, startups and businesses who wrestle with unpredictable revenue streams. She builds innovative, productive and profitable teams focused on excellence in the execution of strategy. Her Workshops help build healthier organizations. Her Playbook on collaboration hacks and business strategies, including tools, Do YOU Mean Business? is available on Amazon.com.