Today we are going to take a trip back in time. I was in my early twenties and was convinced that I had this whole ‘life thing’ figured out. I knew it all, and everybody else was just in my way. I had little patience and was always in a hurry. One particular day, my wife and I were on our way to meet some friends for dinner. We had reservations for 7:00 pm and we were running late. Back then I used to smoke cigarettes (glad I gave up that habit), I was completely out of smokes and in the middle of a nicotine fit. So we stopped in at an Eckerd’s Drug Store (I am showing my age there as they are long gone…lol) to grab a quick pack for the road. We walked in and I immediately noticed that there was a long line, and was instantly annoyed that all these people were going to make me late!
As we waited in line for what seemed like hours, we finally only had one more person in front of us. It was an elderly man who was buying a gallon bottle of milk. The cashier rang it up, and the total was $1.31. The elderly man told the cashier she was mistaken, the sign said the price was $1.25.
The cashier replied, “Yes, but with tax it is $1.31” (again showing my age…).
The elderly man became irate and told the cashier, “ You are not allowed to charge tax on food!”
The cashier tried to explain that, Eckerd’s was a convenience store, so their entire inventory is considered convenience items and therefore subject to tax. The elderly man started arguing with the cashier and said he wanted to speak to a manager. By this point I was seeing red! I slammed down a nickel on the counter and said, “I’ll pay the stupid tax just to get on with my life!”
The elderly man just looked at me and said, “It must be nice not to care about money.”
Then he went along his way. I was able to buy my smokes and get the heck out of there. For several years I told people about this petty old man and how ridiculous he was being over a nickel.
Jumping in the time machine and heading back to modern times… my wife and I were at a Burger King a couple years back (glad to say I have also given up fast food now). We were standing in line and when we got up to the cashier we placed our order. I ordered a Whopper with cheese, no pickle, no tomato and extra onions. As the lady rang up my order I could see it totaling up on the screen. When she punched in extra onions it showed a charge of ten cents. I immediately asked the lady why are you charging me ten cents for onions? She replied that was the way that the register rings it up.
I exclaimed, “Are you kidding me? Where is my twenty cent credit for removing the pickles, and tomato then?” The cashier gave me a perplexed look and wasn’t sure what to say. I asked to speak to the manager. Suddenly my wife, without missing a beat, slams a dime on the counter and says, “The onions are my treat; shall we get on with our lives now?”
Looking back on that situation, the elderly man was right. He shouldn’t have had to pay tax on the milk. Also, I was the only one to blame for my being late, and the poor planning I had done that evening was the reason for my frustration. So the next time someone is in your way, or cuts you off in traffic, or jumps ahead of you in line, just remember you have no idea what is happening in their life, and although you may think you understand the situation, in reality you can’t possibly understand what they are experiencing.
I am constantly reminded of this moment because it was a real moment of clarity for me. Whenever I reflect back on that elderly man, I am reminded of several life lessons.
1. We really should respect our elders. It takes a long time before you start to understand how the world works, cause and effect, and how to effect real change in the world.
2. There is life outside your own world. It’s not always about you!
3. Even when you think you’ve got it all figured out, someone moves the cheese and you have to start all over. (ref. “Who Moved My Cheese”, by Spencer Johnson, M.D.)
4. You should never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.