An Unfortunate Harvest
I was dreading it, truth be told. I've worked retail many times off and on throughout my life. I always found it absolutely torturous; long hours, low pay, and mindless work. To my surprise, I actually enjoy this job. Yes, my feet usually hurt like nobody's business after a shift, but in the smaller setting with more upscale merchandise, and thus, a slightly more upscale customer, it's not quite as mind numbing.
Of course I run into rude people now and then. That's true of every job. And occasionally, someone pees in a dressing room or leaves a soiled sanitary napkin. But as a Mom, I'm pretty hardened to that sort of thing. When the pee incident happened, my co-workers all shrieked with dismay when I got down on my hands and knees to sniff the suspicious looking puddle on the dressing room floor. But when a child has puked into your bare hands, a little pee seems fairly harmless.
Those instances are fairly rare. Most of the time, I have a good time putting outfits together for my clients and we chat about lots of interesting stuff. Several days ago a woman came in looking haggard and frazzled. I asked her if I could help her and she declined. But after a while she confessed she had to attend a funeral but couldn't even think what she might need. She was catching a plane in just a few hours. I put together two outfits for her complete with accessories. She bought everything I suggested and thanked me profusely as she paid. It was a small thing, but I was glad I could help her in some way. I'm not giving anybody a new heart or even helping them lose weight...but it isn't always a meaningless job.
So as I said, I meet some interesting folks. There is one lady who comes in often. She's short, blonde, and quite plump. She is very friendly and outgoing. Our store does not really make clothing for a woman of her size, but she always takes an armload into the dressing room. Often, she buys only jewelry, because, as she said, "It always fits." She's a very nice lady and we often chat for several minutes after business is concluded and she has her packages in hand. I had the niggling feeling that I knew her from somewhere. Most likely, it was Weight Watchers, but it's a delicate thing to broach with someone. It's not like asking them if you might know them from Pee Wee Soccer.
Yesterday, as I was helping her in the dressing room, I finally said..."I feel like I know you from somewhere besides here. Have we met somewhere else?" She cocked her head like a little blonde bird, and said, "Maybe. Where do you go to church?"
In the past I would have lied. I would have said, "Well, we're between churches right now" or "We don't currently have a home church." This often backfired spectacularly as it resulted in emphatic and sometimes relentless invitations to try their church. For this reason and many others, I have resolved to be honest when people ask me questions about my spirituality. So I was. I said, "I don't go to church."
I could see it in her eyes. They remained open, but something in them closed. Her face, though it remained impassible, lost some of the friendly animation I was used to. She opened her mouth but nothing came out. I know she weighing the possibility of asking me...WHY? When the first question someone asks you in such a situation is where you go to church, it's a good bet that they spend a great deal of time at church and doing church related activities. This gal was no casual Christian.
"Well....." she said slowly, "My kids go to Mr. Paran." (local Christian school)
"Mhmmm" I said.
"I work in the administration office there."
"Mmmhmm." I said again.
She stopped talking and just looked at me.
"So maybe just the grocery store then." I said.
"Yeah, probably." she said.
Then she turned her back on me and walked off. She did not wait for me to follow her to the cash register as she usually did. There was no superfluous chit chat at the door once the transaction was complete. She simply paid and left.
I know what you're thinking. That means nothing! Maybe she suddenly realized she left the iron on. Maybe she had a vision that someone she loved was about to walk in front of a train. Maybe she had to fart.
It wasn't any of those things. Bigotry isn't always ostentatious. In fact I think that most often, bigotry is very subtle. So subtle that most people would say..."Well that doesn't mean anything! There could be a million reason for that! And there could. But there aren't. As someone who has been on the receiving end of such more times than I can count, I assure you, I know when I am being judged and I know when someone has deemed me unworthy, even if their personal mores prevent them from pointing an accusing finger at me and shouting "HERETIC! BLASPHEMER!"
It made me a little sad, but I'm used to it. And what I've come to realize is that it's not her fault. Somebody taught her that I am less. When she was just a small and impressionable child, someone planted that seed and then cultivated it for years upon years, until it was as much a part of her as her love of the color blue or her fondness for chocolate.
It isn't a conscious thing, this judgment. I don't think most judgment is. None of us want to be judgmental, do we? And yet we are, because of seeds sown in our own gardens. I judge people who don't use proper grammar and are poor spellers. Why? Because my mother was very adamant that we, her three girls, speak and write well. Her indoctrination of us was purposeful and quite ruthless. So I can't not judge, though I do try.
So I will still give her the best customer service I can. I will still be unreservedly friendly to her...IF she continues to seek me out. But she won't. How do I know?
I'm an Atheist living in the Bible Belt. That's how.