by Father Mark Goldasich
Write checks for bills? Check. Swing by the bank to make a deposit? Check. Drop off Christmas cards at the post office? Check. Compile grocery list? Check.
The list for this particular Wednesday back in December 2008 looked pretty typical, and Mom and I were methodically checking off items as we got them done.
Visit Sam’s Club? At this last entry, things got interesting. After shopping, Mom was ahead of me in line. She always uses my Sam’s card and pays cash. I listened while she and the checkout person chatted as her purchases were rung up. As I was transferring items from cart to counter, I heard Mom ask the clerk, “Could you please help me get the money out of my coin purse? Arthur and I aren’t getting along today.”
The clerk immediately reached out and helped. As Mom wheeled her cart away, I stepped up to the cash register, opened up my checkbook and flashed the clerk a smile. That smile dimmed somewhat in wattage when I caught a glimpse of the clerk’s face, who appeared to be gazing at me with annoyance.
As she swiped my Sam’s card, I caught a glimpse of her nametag: Toya. I was just about to ask if everything was OK, when I saw her glance down at my card. With a puzzled look on her face, she said to me, “Your name’s not Arthur!”
“Uh, no,” I replied . . . and then the proverbial light bulb went off in both of our heads. I understood why it looked like she was annoyed with me: Toya thought that I (supposedly “Arthur”) was mistreating this sweet lady (my Mom) by “not getting along” — making her fend for herself . . . and during the holiday season, no less.
With a look of relief and utter amusement, Toya said of my mom, “She was talking about ‘arthur-itis,’ not you! I thought . . .”
I stopped her apology with a wave of my hand and we had a good laugh over the arthritis incident. Mom did, too, when I told her later.
Naturally, the story doesn’t end there. It’s now a rare Wednesday when Mom and I don’t get to see Toya somewhere in Sam’s Club. It’s not odd for me to hear from out of nowhere: “Have you been behaving better now?” or “How are you today, Arthur?” It’s also not unusual, when we’re in her checkout line, for Toya to ask my mom, “Is he treating you OK?” Mom never neglects to give Toya a big hug when she sees her now.
Yes, Wednesdays at Sam’s have never been the same!
I tell this story because once again we’re celebrating Respect Life Month. And, as I’ve said before over the years, it’s that first word that we need to pay careful attention to: Respect.
It was respect for my mom’s well-being that led that Sam’s clerk to give me “the stare” last December. And, once I was aware of what was happening, I had a deep respect for that clerk in her care for my mom.
During October, I’m doing two simple things. First, I’m taking a break from reading the editorial page and the letters to the editor in the newspaper. The often nasty, divisive, and dismissive tone that appears there saddens me. Not only is it disrespectful, it also does nothing concrete to solve the problems that face us. Each day I’m praying for those who irritate me and send my blood pressure soaring.
Secondly, I’m writing at least one note a week to someone I respect or to someone that I see doing something respectful. The more that we encourage good behavior, the more of it we will see.
I guess there’s actually a third thing that I plan to do as well: Be extra nice to those in service professions, especially clerks, waiters and waitresses, and janitorial personnel. It’s sad, but many treat people in the service sector as slaves rather than workers. We forget that people, especially when we want or need something from them, respond best when they are respected, not demeaned.
Let’s raise the bar this Respect Life Month by cutting back on gossip, pettiness, rash judgment and snarkiness. Let’s instead approach one another with respect and watch what surprising things happen: Friendships can start, laughter can be heard, understanding can be found, life can abound.
And, in the process, we might even stumble on the cure for “Arthur-itis.”