“Where we live, in north-central Florida, patience is not a virtue but an absolute necessity. The community here, especially at such emporia as Hallmark, is largely in its late 70s and 80s, and no one moves quickly or, often, predictably and rationally. More of us than not, hereabouts, are a few feathers short of a dove.”—Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
By Way of Being
By Elizabeth Boleman-Herring
“When you forgive, you free your soul. But when you say I’m sorry, you free two souls.”
―Donald L. Hicks
But, it was mid-December, I’d run out of photo-holding-holiday cards, and Hallmark was having a sale.
Where we live, in north-central Florida, patience is not a virtue but an absolute necessity. The community here, especially at such emporia as Hallmark, is largely in its late 70s and 80s, and no one moves quickly or, often, predictably and rationally. More of us than not, hereabouts, are a few feathers short of a dove.
Grumpy old white men abound—as nowhere else I’ve been on the planet. Grumpy old men wearing any and all far-Right insignia they can, literally stitched onto their shirts and baseball hats.
So, when I heard his voice—loud, aggrieved, petulant—even before I saw him, I knew what to expect.
He was short and slight and very old and very white, and he was, demonstrably, a veteran of this, that, and the other war, and a supporter of this, that, and the other Republican presidential candidate.
Near the crowded check-out lines, where women in advanced middle age were helping customers with purchases, and wearing elf and Santa aprons, Xmas earrings, and red and green from head to toe, one woman employee had been cornered against a Xmas display and was wilting under a tirade delivered by . . . let’s call him Mr. G.
“You told me it would be here today, and it isn’t! It isn’t,” said Mr. G. “I made a trip all the way over here because you told me it would be here!”
The cornered woman, again (and again), as I stood there, surrounded by her silent cohorts frozen in a red-and-green Greek chorus, said, “I’m so sorry, Sir! I understand how you must feel, but I just couldn’t make it to the storeroom today to pick it up for you. It will be here tomorrow. I promise.”
“But that’s what you said yesterday,” said Mr. G (again). “How do I know you won’t mess up again? I made the drive all the way over here, and I’ll have to do it again tomorrow, and . . .”
“Sir, I apologize, again,” said the saleswoman, “but it’s been terribly busy this week, and . . .”
“I can’t believe this has happened to me!” continued Mr. G. “Is this any way to run a business!?”
I hadn’t actually been timing this back-and-forth between Mr. G. and the pleasant woman with the enormously swollen ankles and long-un-cut salt-and-pepper hair, but I knew that at least seven pairs of eyes were now on her and Mr. G., all of them belonging to exhausted elderly women, their hands full of cards and ornaments to send to friends and family far away.
No one could proceed to check-out while he blocked access to the lines and cash registers; no one seemed able to move.
I, however, was close enough to reach out and touch both the protagonists, as well as most members of the silent chorus.
A beat of time passed. A still point of silence between accuser and accused.
There are moments that bring out the Sophocles or, more typically, the Aristophanes, in some of us, and this was one of those Hallmark moments.
I fell—literally, noisily, and painfully—to my knees before this old man, clasped my hands in prayer before my face (and his), and (like the Trojan women) raised my voice.
“I am sorry, Sir! I apologize for this kind, long-suffering woman before you, who is so tired of standing on her feet! I apologize for your wife, however and whenever she may have offended you, or offend you, yet. For your daughters, your mother, your granddaughters; for all women, wherever they are, who have obviously so, so let you down; who will ever let you down from here on out! I apologize for your having been inconvenienced during the busy holiday season! In fact, I apologize, in advance, for anyone and everyone, no matter their sex, who will let you down. Ever! Here, at your feet, as you can see, I apologize for us all! In the past, in the present, and even in the future. It’s not much, I allow, my apology, but it’s all I can do!”
I would have gone on (and on, and on), had he not relented—almost—and turned slightly toward the door. But, wouldn’t you know it, he opened his mouth to say one more thing, and I was compelled to begin again— “I apologize!”—before he finally exited, deeply and obviously confused, stage right.
Only then, did I rise.
. . . to silence that lasted just a second, before one of the women in line took me in her arms.
“Thank you for saving me!” she said. “Oh, thank you! You have no idea what I was about to say! I was just a tick from lighting into him, but you did it. You made him stop.”
I was thinking of my father, just after this unscripted performance of mine, after the circle of Hallmark women had come together, borne witness, laughed, and reached out to touch one another before dispersing into the vast strip-mall parking lot beyond the store.
My father believed that, in any situation involving human lunacy, if one person simply stepped outside the box, the shared box of delusion, and was seen to step out of it, a little more light might become available for everyone involved.
Either that, or the police would be called to take her away . . .
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