It was another warm, sunny evening in Northern California. I was checking out at the grocery store on base (called the Commissary), and I had a decision to make like I always do. Should I use the self-checkout, or should I use the human-assisted checkout? We so often overlook the potential difference a small decision like this can make in a person’s life…
I am always inclined to use the self-checkout, because I feel it’s easier and faster. In reality, I don’t think either of those are actually true…and it’s definitely not a more pleasant experience! They recently “upgraded” the voice of the woman in the machine to an extremely impatient, irritated-sounding lady. Boy, if you don’t get your food item in the “bagging area” within about 0.7 seconds, you’re in BIG TROUBLE!! So why do I still decide to fight the self-checkout fight when I know I will just end up arguing with a digital person?!?
One of the big reasons I am deterred from the “real humans” is the fact that the baggers are only paid from the tips they make. I usually don’t have any cash on my person, so I feel bad about utilizing someone’s service, only to say “Thanks, but I don’t have any cash… :/” There’s also something inside of me that doesn’t really want to make the effort to interact with people. That’s the sad truth. But, as you’ll find out, I’m sure glad I did today!
When I saw there was a lady in the self-checkout line with about 25 items, I decided to use the person checkout. It was on the far end, and I almost couldn’t believe they were open! The gentleman was manning his post like a zombie, arms crossed, head back, balancing on his heels. His demeanor seemed to say, “I would rather be stranded on a desert island than standing here right now.” But he motioned to me, so I went over. He asked me what kind of bags I wanted, and I addressed the bagger, “Whatever’s easier for you, man.” “Okay,” he replied.
For whatever reason, the Commissaries give the baggers “number tags” instead of name tags. My bagger today was “BAGGER # 57.” Bagger # 57 quickly bundled up my meager amount of groceries, and was going to let me carry them out. I said, “Hey…I don’t have a tip, but if you walk out to my car with me I can grab it for you.” So we walked out, and he started chatting. It’s amazing how just going somewhere with someone can begin a rapport that causes conversation to begin. Movement is powerful! He told me he had just graduated school, and was working another job in landscaping. I found out eventually that his name was Blake.
Standing in the parking lot, I pointed to his “BAGGER #57” badge and said, “You know, I think this is one of the worst things in the world.” I told him that HE HAS A NAME, and that it’s important. I also told him that God knows his name, even if nobody else does! I was shocked when he exclaimed, “In my ten months of working this job, you’re the only person to EVER ask my name. And, you’re the only person to ask about me.” This was hard for me to believe. But at the same time, it’s all too much of a reality in our fast-paced, me-focused, modern world.
The reason I tell this story is not for me…it’s for people like Blake. In our culture today, we have bought into a lie that says, “I am my own person, I can do what I want and there is NOTHING wrong with that.” While this is somewhat true, it’s really a half-truth. We are our own, in a way…we are the only ones that can make choices for ourselves. But what we do (and don’t do) can have significant impacts in our lives and in the lives of those around us.
So, I leave you with this: “What are we building?” Are we trying to build our resumes, our bank accounts, and our likes on Instagram? I know that I do! And that’s okay, but are we trying to build things that will last as well? Are we trying to build relationships? Are we trying to build things not just in our own lives, but the lives of those around us? I think when we get away from the nagging, pestering demands of life, we can start to see a bigger picture: The fact that God didn’t make us just to live for ourselves. Relationships matter, love matters, and these things matter because God made us for them. Let’s start building something that will LAST today!