By Ana | November 23, 2012
It’s a bit of a tradition for two old friends and I to get together in the wee hours of the morning on Black Friday and head to the stores to people watch. While we’ve never personally witnessed any rioting, trampling, or violence, we have seen nasty words exchanged between irate and frantic shoppers.
This year, something happened to change my perception of this entire phenomenon.We found ourselves at Target around 3:30 this morning, and strolled around browsing, observing people and decorations, and chatting. One of my friends found peppermint chapstick and hot cocoa, and I happened to find a Leo DiCaprio DVD and little day planner for 2013. We were all getting tired, and since the crowds had thinned, there wasn’t much left to watch, so we headed to the checkout.
The register I was directed to was staffed by a developmentally disabled young man. My dad works in the health care field for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities, and growing up I had many opportunities to go to work with him, and get to know the people he works with. Some people feel uncomfortable around people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, but I’ve never been one of them. Dad taught my sisters and I to treat people with intellectual and developmental disabilities just as you would treat anyone else–with respect, politeness, and dignity.
The young man greeted me, and asked how I was doing as he began to ring up my items. “Good,” I said. “How are you doing tonight?”
“Not good,” he replied. At once I felt like an idiot. Of course not good, Ana. It’s almost 4 am on Black Friday! And he has been working and probably dealing with tons of rude people. I wouldn’t be good either! “I’m sorry,” I said. “I hope it gets better. It must have been–”
“I’m not good. I’m great!” he said, beaming at me, before I could finish saying it must have been very busy this evening.
“Oh, well that’s wonderful–” I began again, but then he asked, “Do you know why I’m great?”
I told him that I didn’t know, to which he said with a huge smile: “Because you’re here!”
I don’t know if there are even words to express how much my heart just melted at that moment. He’d probably been working for hours. He probably hadn’t even had a full Thanksgiving Day with his family, and he probably missed seeing Thanksgiving football on TV, and he probably hadn’t had time for a post-turkey nap after dinner before work, and what if there wasn’t any leftover pie when he got home later today? I don’t know why I thought of that, but I did, and it all made me terribly sad. And here he was, making my day with something so simple as a few kind words.
I just couldn’t even process it. As I took my bag and left, I smiled and wished him a Happy Thanksgiving, even though it was technically over, I guess. With that same big smile, he told me to have a great day. Then I got back into my car to wait for my friends and just cried and cried. I couldn’t really tell you why–it’s pretty unlike me. But maybe he was a reminder I really needed of how honestly wonderful people can be.
I think that’s so easy to forget this time of year. I like the holidays, of course, but at the same time, I’ve always been pretty cynical about them. Most of the time they seem like more work and stress and cost than they’re worth. I run around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to help my parents entertain guests and serve a Emeril-worthy meal and use the fancy dishes and it just doesn’t feel worth it. But this year suddenly feels a little different.
I never caught that young man’s name, but I’ll remember what he taught me today–that even in the midst of the hectic craziness of this time of year, there is always time to be kind to people, and that is more valuable than anything you can buy on Black Friday.