I stood in the grocery line and wondered why the cashier was ignoring the customer ahead of me. With her head turned away from us, she was obviously more interested in the conversation happening two aisles over. “Hello!” I thought, annoyed. Finally, she turned to the woman ahead of me saying, “Excuse me, I have to go give that man a hug.”
I watched her approach the man two aisles over. “I’m so sorry,” she said, embracing him. He rubbed his eyes and told her the viewing and the burial were later in the week.
His pain at that point was obvious, yet I hadn’t even noticed. My annoyance quickly dissolved. I was reminded of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
The cashiers’ compassion for the man was simple but powerful. It would have been far easier for her to dutifully ring up our groceries and murmur “hello.” But instead, she was aware — she saw her customers’ faces, knew their stories and recognized when one was suffering. She saw in them her neighbor, and she loved them as herself.
Part of our duty as Catholics is to obey the second commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself. But we need to see our neighbors if we are to love them. We need to be open to those around us and not fixated on our own agendas for the day. And beyond just seeing others, we need to take the initiative to reach out to them.
In Acts 3:1-10, Peter and John were headed to the temple to pray. They had a specific time they had to be there, 3:00 pm, the hour of prayer. But at the gate of the Temple, they were delayed by a crippled man who asked them for alms. Scripture tells us that they looked intently at him; Peter directed the man to do the same: “Look at us!” The man had their full attention and they wanted his too.
Peter then commanded the man to walk in Jesus’ name. Touching Peter’s extended hand, the crippled man immediately felt strength return to his feet and ankles. He danced and sang praises to God while bystanders watched, filled with “wonder and amazement.”
During his public ministry, Jesus himself was constantly being followed, interrupted and pursued by people. And he always made time for them. When Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus called out to him. People tried to hush him, but Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here” (Mark 10: 49-50). The man begged Jesus to have mercy on him by restoring his sight. Jesus healed the man, who in turn followed him.
The kind cashier and these Gospel passages remind us how important it is to slow down and see our neighbor. Being attuned to the people God places in our path, wherever we are, is part of the Christian walk.
The cashier eventually returned to her register and rang up my groceries. Though I had been delayed, I was grateful for the spiritual lesson she had unwittingly given me.
As I left the store, I prayed I could be a little more like that cashier, a little more like Jesus.
Kim Griffin is a member of the Parish of the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, Philadelphia.