To the Target Checkout Clerk Who Let Me Bag My Own Soap

Dear Target Checkout Clerk,

You probably don’t remember me. I was in your line not long ago. I’m the customer who quietly asked you this: “Would it be OK if I hold the soap while you scan it, and then put it in the bag myself?” An unusual request, I know. But when I nervously explained I have obsessive compulsive disorder, and that sometimes shopping is hard for me, you didn’t miss a beat. There was no look of condemnation, offense or even pity (I’ve been met with all three at one time or another) – just an understanding smile and a readiness to help.

You didn’t know my story. You didn’t know I’ve lived with OCD for almost 20 years – that it started with a doorknob freshman year of college and slowly spread to everything that matters to me. You didn’t know I’ve been in specialized therapy for almost a year, learning how to manage this chronic and insidious disorder; and that even as I fight to get better, there are still tough days, like today, when OCD gets its way.

You didn’t know I went to your store that day to get new hand soap because my other hand soap didn’t feel right when I washed my hands. You didn’t know just being able to buy soap from the store is an achievement. You didn’t know the crushing sense of responsibility I felt as I carefully inspected countless bottles of soap, desperately searching for the right one to bring home. And how could you have known as I approached the checkout area, exhausted, I anxiously scanned the lanes for cashiers who looked clean, and prayed to God they would also be kind? Because I know by now one does not beget the other.

You didn’t know any of this when you checked me out of your store that sunny, late summer afternoon. But it was so clear to me you know what it means to be human. Because while nothing you did for me was part of your normal routine, you never made me feel abnormal. Instead, you happily scanned my soap as I held it, and then gently opened a plastic bag so I could put it inside. It had been a rough afternoon, but my heart was near full.

Comedian Maria Bamford has said, “People get really irritated by mental illness.” Thank you for not being irritated. Thank you for treating me like a person instead of a problem.

I’ll admit at the time I was relieved there was no one behind me to witness our exchange. But now I wish there had been. Because while more people need to know what it looks like to have OCD, even more need to know what it looks like to be kind.

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