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When a Woman Scolded Me for Not Helping the Cashier Bag My Groceries, I Said This

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I was in line at the supermarket at 5:30 Tuesday afternoon. I never normally go at that time, but my husband Howie was picking up the kids at school and I wanted to make tacos for everyone. I needed to cheer them up with their favorite dinner. One of our beloved bearded dragons had died that afternoon and I was trying to cheer the kids up with their favorite dinner. When I opened the fridge to start cooking, I realized that I was out of tomatoes and I was also out of soy yogurt for my daughter Abie’s breakfast. I needed to make sure that the next morning she had her special soy yogurt because she is very particular about choosing her breakfast and if I am out of one of her favorite choices, things can get ugly!

So I dragged myself into my car, shuffled into the store, and leaned on the cart to help me balance. I was exhausted already from a busy day and I was starting to really feel aches and pains in my joints and my muscles. I was even having trouble keeping my eyes open; my eyelids were heavy and beginning to droop, as they do in the evenings.

I went through the aisles and grabbed the items I needed. Of course I realized I also needed Gatorade, bagel dogs, and ice cream. There’s always something more that you need that’s not on your list. By the time I waited in line and unloaded the items onto the belt, I was ready to lay down on the dirty supermarket floor from fatigue and pain. So I was very relieved when the cashier rang me up, packed up my bags and put them in my cart. As I thanked her and reached for my receipt, I heard a voice behind me addressing the cashier.

“You don’t have anyone to help you pack bags? It’s just you? That’s so wrong.” I turned to look at her, knowing I was her target. She glared at me. “If I were a customer I certainly would pack my own
bags to help you. I wouldn’t just stand there and watch you pack them.” She continued to stare me down.

I actually surprised myself when I held her gaze. Normally I avoid conflict at all costs. But I couldn’t let go of this one. So I spoke as calmly as I could.

“I can see that you have decided to judge me without knowing me and you feel that I should be hauling these heavy items into bags and into my cart. You may not realize how many steps it takes to go grocery shopping, but I do. I still have to walk the heavy cart to my car, load the bags into my trunk, drive home, carry the packages in and put the groceries away. That may not mean much to you, but I have dermatomyositis and lupus. To me that means just grocery shopping can be wearing and painful. So before you decide to judge someone, you need to realize that you may not see the whole picture.”

She glared at me again and said, “Well you don’t look sick.” Those famous words. We have all heard them before. I had had enough. I thanked the cashier for her help. I turned once more to look at the woman and then I walked out of the store. I don’t wish bad things upon her, but I do hope that my words had an impact. The best thing would be for her to feel embarrassed about what she said to me. So embarrassed that she wouldn’t even tell anyone because the shame went deep. And the next time she gets ready to stab someone with her sharp words, she will think twice.

In one way or another this has happened to all of us. I recently read an article in which a woman with a chronic illness decided to go to an amusement park with her family. She knew she would be exhausted afterwards and that it would take days to recover, but she decided to go to try a “normal” day with her family. She posted the photo on Facebook thinking that people would be happy for her. However, she received a snide comment from a family member that she must be “faking” her illness if she was able to go to an amusement park. She was devastated by this remark. No one seemed to understand what difficulties she would have to face after that one day out to recover. She felt that she could never post anything “happy” or people would think she is well and not ill at all.

I feel really sad that this woman had to experience such anger and lack of support. Having an “invisible” illness can be one of the most difficult experiences we face. But if we support each other and support our loved ones who are ill, at least we can get through this with compassion and love. Although I am sick, If I choose to have a day out with my family, you can bet I’m going to post it, like it, and certainly not apologize for it. Although it may take days for me to recover, I know that it will have been worth it.

Originally published: September 29, 2016
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