A few months ago I was asked to bring donuts to a church youth activity. It seemed like an easy enough task. However, I didn’t budget my time well that day and I found myself in a pinch. I had only a few minutes for purchase and delivery, and wouldn’t you know it, the line at the donut shop curled around the store lobby and out the door.
It turned out this was National Donut Day–a celebration of which I was heretofore unaware.
I quickly weighed my options and decided the safest thing to do would be to stay put. I mean what if there was a run on all the donuts in town? The line inched forward and finally it was my turn. I smiled amiably at the cashier. She responded brusquely. She was there to get the job done, not to be friendly. Somewhat deflated by her rudeness, I ordered the donuts which she skillfully arranged in newly folded boxes.
After I paid, the cashier immediately turned to the next customer. I tried to get her attention because she hadn’t given me a receipt. Her response was curt and emotionless. If I had wanted a receipt, I should have asked for it in advance. Now it was simply too late. Would I kindly let her get on with assisting other customers.
The circumstance seemed overwhelming to me on that particular day, and because I was already late in delivering the donuts, I got into my car and drove away.
It is quite likely that you have heard the beautiful words of Scottish theologian Ian Maclaren:
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
While I love this quote, I have to admit that I thought nothing benevolent as I left that donut shop. I mean, what was her problem?
It’s not like I kept obsessing about that cashier and her behavior. In fact, I never even gave it a second thought. But I believe the universe brought this person back into my life, so that I could catch a glimpse of her battle. And I can tell you that I see things differently now.
I serve as a school crossing guard very near one of the busiest intersections in town. I cross only a handful of children on any given morning, but I see dozens of people coming and going. On the very first day of the school year, I saw this cashier passing by with her six-year old daughter. (Keep in mind that the cashier couldn’t have been much older than twenty herself.)
Clutching her daughter’s hand, and with great determination in her face, this cashier crossed the road without waiting for me to hold up my sign. The implication was clear. She was responsible for her daughter. She would not depend upon anyone else. As I drove home that morning, I saw this mother and daughter smiling together as they entered an elementary school more than a mile past where I had originally seen them.
As I watched this cashier pass for a few days, I began to see so much good in her. I couldn’t even put my finger on what it was, but my admiration began to grow. One day, as I was leaving, they hurried past. They were late. I told them that I was heading in their direction and would love to give them a ride. The mother balked, but the daughter begged her. She did not want to be late. The mother reluctantly agreed.
As we drove, I talked to the daughter. She seemed like a happy, well-adjusted child. To me that spoke volumes about her young mother. Then I began talking to the mom. She didn’t say much, but from our conversation I gleaned that she had no vehicle and that the closer elementary school was full when they moved into their apartment. She had decided to make a game of walking to school, as it was her only choice. Additionally, she was no longer a cashier at the local donut shop but had obtained a job in hotel housekeeping that worked better with her schedule. Every day she dropped her daughter off at school and walked two more miles to work, finishing just in time to walk back and pick up her daughter.
I was astounded by her independence. I don’t know many people in her situation that would work so hard and expect so little from others. I was amazed by her determination. Nothing could stop her. (She, of course, has never accepted another ride from me, but has been early out the door every day since, rain or shine.) I was humbled by her willingness to sacrifice for her daughter. Her great love was evident.
Having received a glimpse into this young woman’s life, I felt very differently toward her than I had on our initial encounter. Her battle was much more intense than my own. I think it’s fair to say that those who are the most difficult to love are often the ones fighting life’s most difficult battles. And yet if a window opened into the soul, we would likely find a kindred spirit.
Maybe this is why Jesus Christ commanded us to always return good for evil. After all, grumpy donut cashiers need kindness much more than I could ever need a receipt of purchase.