Joseph started working after school as a stock boy, and now, years later, after being transferred to different stores in the chain, he’s assistant manager back at his original place.
Our first encounter years ago was the day he carried my bulky purchases to my car. I didn’t ask for help, but he insisted. I figured he was expecting a tip, but he refused when I offered it.
“I appreciate your help, Joseph,” I said as he walked away.
“How do you know my name?” he asked.
“The manager’s always calling out for you. He works you hard, doesn’t he?”
“I like it,” Joseph answered. “They count on me.”
Joseph was right about that. He was the go-to guy in that store, consistently looking for ways to help people, never losing his cool or being too busy to climb to a top shelf or stoop to pick up fallen merchandise.
He instinctively wheeled shopping carts for elderly and disabled customers and helped them check out. Best of all (unlike some of the teenagers you and I know), he was always in a good mood.
I was in the store one day when he found a small, cheap ring while he was sweeping. Even though it wasn’t valuable, he ran up and down the aisles, trying unsuccessfully to find its owner.
“It’s junk; throw it away,” Maria, the cashier, advised, but Joseph put it behind the counter.
A little girl, sobbing, burst in, followed by her irate mother: “I lost my birthday ring! My grandma gave it to me!”
Maria immediately produced the ring. She looked like the hero, but I knew better.
Fortunately, Joseph’s bosses rewarded his fine qualities, and promotions ensued. So there he was, back where I first met him, no longer a stock boy.
The store is a true salad bowl of ethnicities and socio-economic diversity. The languages and clothing from all over the world are part of the experience one enjoys while shopping.
I was standing in a line of the usual multinational group, all of us anxious to get out quickly. It was after 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and Atlanta rush hour had already begun.
The line was moving steadily, but it came to a standstill because of the woman just ahead of me, whose cart was overflowing with clothing and housewares.
She slowly moved her potential purchases back and forth between counter and cart, one at a time, scrutinizing each item. She tried to talk to Sofia, usually the fastest and smartest cashier, but Sofia didn’t grasp a single word. We all heard her, too, and we shook our heads. Among the languages represented in the group, no one understood her.
Was she addled and poor, forced at the moment of truth to decide what she really needed? Was she a new immigrant, confused about the system? Was she drugged or overmedicated? Was she trying to get away with something?
Those of us behind her, imagining ourselves stuck in traffic, were becoming antsier and angrier by the second. We were fed up and didn’t care. We just wanted her to disappear, but in spite of our grumbling, none of us had the guts to push past her.
Overwhelmed, Sofia called Joseph out of his office. He first did the obvious, then the unexpected.
He opened a new register for Sofia and our line and took his place near the woman.
As we followed Sofia to her new station, Joseph had something to say to us: “Isn’t this woman lucky to be here with us where we can help her? I’m sure a lot of us have been in her shoes. Thank you all for being so kind and understanding.”
He smiled when he said it, but he meant business.
I knew Joseph would patiently stand by the woman’s side and listen as she picked through her cart and talked to him in words he wouldn’t understand. He would gently escort her out, maybe even make sure she knew how to get home.
I can only guess what the other people thought, but I have a plan. I’m praying for patience and empathy this year.
Wishing you the same. Shanah tovah!