On Friday while I was working at one of the two Safeway grocery stores in my town I had an experience, a heartbreaking experience; one that I hope to never forget and one that I'm not sure what I learned from it..
It was after 4:00pm while I was putting out a Hallmark card order in the aisle and the store was fairly busy with people stopping at the grocery store after work to buy food for the weekend. I frequently have store customers mistake me for a store worker and ask me where they can find different things; I enjoy interacting with them; however, I wasn't really prepared for the middle-aged man who approached me on this afternoon. I could not understand him even after asking him several times to repeat himself; I was frustrated, but I am sure he was more frustrated. He also motioned while he spoke, I'm sure, to try and help explain what he was wanting to buy. I determined that he wasn't looking for a greeting card so I told him that I didn't work for Safeway and that I was sorry. He walked down the aisle to a young woman who was stocking shelves where I saw him talking and using hand gestures to help explain himself and then left the aisle.
It broke my heart to see this man not able to communicate his needs to others. I walked down and asked the young woman if she was able to help him, but she was unable to understand him as well. I just kept hoping that someone could understand him and that he could find what he was searching for. I felt like I wanted to follow him around the store making sure that everyone he spoke with was kind and patient with him.
I had continued working when he approached me again speaking and using hand gestures wanting me to understand him. This time I asked him if he could write it down for me; he could not and just continued motioning. I felt ecstatic when somehow I was able to understand that he was looking for envelopes! I excitedly conveyed to the young woman still working down the aisle from me, "he's looking for envelopes!". She was able to direct this man to the area where he could buy envelopes; no wonder he asked me since there are lots of envelopes with the greeting cards!
As he walked away I couldn't help but shed some tears; tears of sadness for this man who has to live like this and tears of gladness that I was able to figure out what he wanted.
I like to try and learn lessons from experiences but I'm not sure what my lesson was on that Friday late afternoon. Maybe I was taught to be more compassionate towards others who struggle with problems or disabilities or maybe it was just a reminder to me to be grateful for my circumstances in life. I'm not sure, but I still think about that middle-aged man who lives his life like this daily-not being heard or understood. I wonder how he copes and what he's learned from this?