I went to Wal-mart yesterday. I had a list in my hand from school telling me what the kids needed for the year. Folder, glue, erasable pens(?). We hunted around, marking off each item as we found it. It was going to be an uneventful, boring day of shopping. But it didn’t go down that way.
All was well until we tried to checkout. There were many lines open, but even more people trying to leave. Each lane had a line that essentially blocked the main causeway. Me and the family picked out and stood in it. I was guessing about a 15 minute wait. Not the best, but so it goes. I was still in a pretty good mood, oblivious to the tension all around us.
The 1st Episode
In the lane to our left, a young black woman pulled her mask down around her chin. The couple behind her in line barked. “Put your mask back on.”
The woman didn’t respond in kind. She didn’t escalate. She just answered. “I will. Just give me a second. I can’t breathe in this thing.”
”None of us can. Put it on.” The couple were audibly upset. Well, not the couple, but the woman half of their equation. She was frustrated, and each time she spoke her volume increased and tone narrowed.
At this point the young woman decided to stop engaging. I don’t know why. Maybe she realized it was pointless. Maybe she was just done. But she just looked straight ahead and didn’t respond.
The angry woman didn’t like this. The time had come to make a scene. With her outside voice she began to announce her actions. Around us everyone began to look on with a resigned acceptance. “I’m getting out of line. You are forcing me out of line.” She jerked her cart out of line and began to force it down the crowded causeway. Her husband followed behind. She yelled back at the unmasked woman, “I am not gonna catch your S&%@!”
The 2nd Episode
I was in thought about what I had just seen when a female voice cleared her throat. I came to and found an elderly woman in a wheelchair needed to pass. I apologized and corralled my kids out of the way.
The cart passed and then decided to jump in the now shortened line to our left. But it was also out in the causeway. She had to do a three point turn to get herself point the right direction. She angled her nose in, backed up very slowly with the intention of straightening herself into the lane. But as she slowly backed up the crowded main causeway bottlenecked. Maybe five people had come to a stop in order to let the cart finish backing up. But the people behind them didn’t like having to stop. They were in a hurry and began to push through. Grumbling from those waiting and those forcing their way through grew from a whisper to a din. Someone began scolding the woman in the motorized cart for stopping up traffic. She became flustered, and her three point turn fell apart. I watched people go behind her and in front of her, forcing her to to be immobilized in a sea of people. Her face was hard to see. But through the people I could catch glimpses of it. She looked…. embarrassed.
The 3rd Episode
The lady behind us was on the phone the entire time. She spoke loudly and without fear. From her conversations we learned a few things. First, she wasn’t allowed to go to work because her temperature was too high. Second, she decided to come to Walmart and go shopping with her reclaimed time. And thirdly, she needed to go to a Covid testing site to make sure she didn’t have it. Needless to say, we put on some extra hand sanitizer in the car just to make sure.
I asked the checkout lady how her day was going. She had only been on for 30 minutes. I asked how people were treating her day to day. She was a young lady, probably early 20’s. There was a youthfulness to her. She answered quite thoughtfully. “People are awful to me everyday.”
These interactions have stayed with me through the day. There is a tension in the air that breaks like rain on a humid day. People are wound up and it comes out as aggression towards strangers. For masks. Against masks. For the governor. Against the governor. For. Against. Conspiracy. You are dumb and bad, and I am not.
Brothers and sisters, let us not add to this tension. We blessed the young woman checking us out. At Taco Bell they had people out with tablets taking order Chic-Fil-A style. We spoke words of joy and care to her as well. Today I turned onto Court St, which is still under construction. I found myself face to face with an SUV driving the wrong way in my lane. I didn’t accelerate this time. I didn’t stare them down with murderous eyes. I slowed up so they could get out of the way and gave them a wave of good cheer.
We can love people the way Jesus loved us. We can forgive people they way we have been forgiven. We can treat people the way we long to be treated. Let us be kind one to another.
“And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another even as God in Christ forgave you.”
Pastor, Flint City Church