I was standing in line at a store when an elderly woman in front of me was trying to locate her receipt in order to return a pair of pyjamas.
“I thought for sure I’d put it in here but I must have forgotten,” she said while searching through her purse…frantically flipping through various papers in her wallet and spilling the contents onto the counter.
“Do you forget often,” the cashier snarkily asked with a smile…possibly thinking she was trying to get to the bottom of the woman’s inability to find her receipt but sounding absolutely rude, condescending and awful.
“I’m not in a hurry at all,” I told the flustered woman…who turned to me and apologized for holding things up. “Seriously, not at all,” I’d responded through a second apology while shooting daggers at the cashier…oblivious to how rude she was being.
I honestly felt I needed to console the woman as she stood in front of the irritated cashier…continuously searching through papers she’d already searched until her a-ha moment…when she opened the front pocket of her handbag, revealing the receipt she’d specifically tucked away for safe-keeping.
The next thing, pyjamas were huffily taken and tossed into the return bin and the cashier quickly, and without making eye-contact, keyed in the transaction before holding out her hand and asking for the woman’s debit card.
Not understanding why she had to use her card rather than receive a cash return…the cashier stated, “this is how it’s done now!”
I stood there…dumbfounded…knowing in my head there was probably something I should say or do…not feeling it was quite my place…horrified by the way this elderly woman was being spoken to and the absolute insolent attitude of the young cashier in front of her.
Though baffled and confused…she put in her card information, was handed back her receipts…and the transaction was over.
On leaving, the elderly woman, for the fourth time, apologized again as I smiled and assured her that there was no issue at all.
As she left, I stepped up to the cash register and was sweetly greeted with a “sorry for your wait”…and I LOST IT.
Completely and utterly lost it…requested a manager…lost it some more…explained the circumstances…pointed my finger…near burst into tears. I was angrier than I have been in a very long time about the way this sweet woman was treated. I was angry for not speaking up sooner and for allowing it to happen in front of my very eyes. I was angry with myself that this woman left the store feeling bullied and belittled when she’d deserved nothing but kindness and patience.
I was furious, that I was a bystander…who did nothing…until it was too late.
About a month later, in Canadian Tire to purchase yet another half-dozen keys for my forgetful children, I was at the cash behind an elderly gentleman trying to use the debit machine.
He hit the wrong buttons. Several times. Then looked back to apologize for holding me up suggesting I move ahead of him.
“No worries,” I’d told him “take all the time you need.” Though admittedly, as always, I was in a bit of a rush.
“I don’t know what this says,” he exclaimed as he turned the machine towards the young man at the cash…his hands now obviously shaking from being a little bit panicked.
“You have one try left,” the young man said as he gently smiled and handed back the machine…being ever so kind…but not really sure what to do.
“Do you mind if I help you,” I asked as the elderly gentlemen who, without hesitating, suddenly thrust his debit card towards me and began telling me his pin number.
“No no,” I laughed…”don’t tell me your number!”
Then together, we started over.
Having taught computers and gadgets for multiple years, I kind of knew how to adjust my voice…show a little patience…explain the options. And within moments, we discovered the mistake he kept making…fixed the error…and the sale was approved.
He thanked me. Telling me he’d know better next time as I laughed back telling him that every machine was different so probably not! We joked and kidded…he was a little more at ease…offered to pay for my purchase or buy me a coffee…I laughed him off and told him to enjoy his day.
When he left, the young man working the cash thanked me. He said he’d learned a little from watching me and spoke for a moment about his great-grandmother. How things must be hard for her.
And he’s right…things ARE hard for her.
Here’s the thing. Everyone needs to slow down and give our older generation the time they need to get their stuff done. We live in a fast-paced society…we’ve grown up with computers and we can press buttons on our gadgets in record time. Our parents…our grandparents…they haven’t. However, they’re forced into our technical world and at times…it’s a little overwhelming. Be patient…offer assistance.
Second…these people have raised us. They know better than us. They’re an absolute important part of our society so why do so many people treat the elderly with such disdain? Like they’re second class citizens? No one has any right to make anyone feel less of a person.
These are two incidents where older folks have needed my patience. One, I managed to do it right…the other, I went about it the wrong way. I should have stepped in and helped out. I should have made sure the lovely woman returning a pair of pyjamas she’d purchased for her grandchild, had been treated with respect. She left feeling awful…and I did nothing to stop it.
It’s up to us to teach our younger generation to be compassionate, kind, respectful and patient…the only way to do this, is to set a clear example.