One of those events in which many worlds collide occurred this summer in an unexpected space. Ideas and ideals, young and old, political correctness, and company policies converged in a typically innocuous venue while we were at the beach for our annual family ritual. Till that point I would not have had great difficulty making simple choices, but the relaxation amped up my air-headedness and I found myself in a grocery store wandering like a lost tourist. Having human contact made me remember to speak, not just in my head (where the ocean waves still crashed loudly), but also reminded of social conventions not followed: straight off the beach, embodying the trifecta of sticky, stinky, and sweaty, I offered a silent prayer to anyone downwind.
With much ado I found the needed grocery items and headed up front to pay. At the register I had the aforementioned moment with the young man ringing me up. I gained enough coherence to make eye-contact and noticed he was about the age of my youngest son. He did a double-take and stumbled on the scripted, “Did you find everything you needed?”
Well the beach brings out the philosopher in me and for a moment I thought of the scallops riding the belt to meet the young man’s hand and the waves in my mind gave way to Thoreau: “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” I shook my head because I wasn’t sure if scallops were indeed fish or everything I needed, and I was actually just looking to get back to the beach. The young man, we’ll call him Travis, looked at me again with discomfort, barely able to hold my gaze. Self-consciously I checked myself to see if I had a shirt on. No socks, but a big check mark for the shirt.
Finally Travis was able to spill the beans. He squinted as if anticipating the words would hit a gust and gush right back in his face. “Are you eligible for the senior discount?” Travis shook his head ever so slightly and I wondered if his repetitive nonverbal “No” was for me or for him. I told him that I didn’t think so and he countered with an “I didn’t think so.”
We’d achieved harmony.
Wonder got me while he rang up a few more items so I asked at what age the discount kicked in. Travis paused and said, “60” and waited, the precious scallops hovering above the scanner. I said, “Oh. Getting close, but not there yet.” Travis earned extra points for his look of surprise, and bonus points for the authentic, “Really!”
The bonus points were not for me as I did not care one way or another. But I know how hard it must be for a young boy to ask such sensitive questions in such a sensitive age. Maybe a few adults had blown him out of the water for following company policy. Have to ask. But be careful! Make sure they look a little hunched and wrinkly…
I’ll be 57 in a short while, and the years and beach weeks fly faster and faster past. I’m fine with 57. A discount in a few years seems a nice gesture, but I’m not sure I want to need it. A few blinks and it will be me and Travis again and I will whip out my card to prove I’ve made the 7-Decade Club. I’ll do it so he doesn’t have to keep making that painful face and endure the stress of “I have to ask.” Makes one old fast.
Travis is someone’s son. And I hope that someone or another someone will treat my son with respect and care as they learn about life and not to put the watermelon on top of the eggs.
If you just connect to one other than yourself, anyone, you can gain perspective, empathy, sympathy, and jump a category as now you are part of a bigger group. It’s no longer just me and not me. It’s no longer you and some kid that really doesn’t want to be there but needs gas money. It’s someone’s son.
On the way out of the store, I noticed my tan hands and feet and gave thanks to Travis and the opportunity to always learn. In the parking lot, the heat hit me and the black top roared a triple-digit heat index. I imagined myself in the desert an apparition imparting the words of a vision quest for yesterday, today, and the days to follow….
Self-importance is our greatest enemy. Think about it—what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellowmen. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone. –Carlos Castaneda