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  • Writer's pictureKimberly LaBounty

Waiting in the Checkout Lane

I didn’t send my blog on Thursday. I intended to, but in the end I just couldn’t. Here’s why…

The blog was about a conflict between two employees – so set on proving they were right, that not only did they spend more time exchanging nasty emails (because they won’t talk to each other), but I had to be copied on the entire exchange because I am the boss. I wrote my blog about them – providing details – it was a full page - and then I decided that I couldn’t take in or share that negative energy any longer. We hear enough negative stuff throughout our day. Our brains tell us things. We hear it from others. We hear it in the media. So I deleted it. Instead, I want to share a powerful story the (equally powerful) Tara Brach shared in her opening keynote yesterday morning at the Mindful Leadership Summit…

Tara had been coaching a General in our armed forces. Teaching him to pause; teaching him to take a breath; teaching him to take the opportunity to consider where others might be in their lives. He showed up to one of their meetings and told her what happened to him that week…

The general needed to go to the grocery store. It wasn’t his favorite errand, so he didn’t go very often. As a result, when he did go, he had to get numerous items. Once he had all he needed, he proceeded to the checkout counter. His cart was full. In front of him was a woman with a small child. She had only two items in her cart, but he watched as the checkout process seemed to take forever. The checkout lady made such a fuss over the little girl. The two women talked. They talked about the girl, passing her back and forth. They talked about other things too. The general was getting impatient. He was eager to leave, as he had several other things to do that day and these to gabby women in front of him were holding him up! Feeling frustrated and angry, he remembered his coaching. He stopped and took a breath. He remembered his impatience was rooted in the thought that he would not be successful at the end of the day if he didn’t get his to-do list finished. Acknowledging he would probably be ok, he calmed down. He noticed the joy in the child and in the two women. He may have smiled himself. When it came time to pay, he commented that the little girl was very cute. The checkout lady glowed with delight. “Thank you!” she said. “She is my daughter,” she gleaned. “My husband was recently killed in Afghanistan and so I need to work extra hours, especially with the holidays coming. That woman was my mom, who comes to take care of her each day. Since I don’t get to be home much, we’ve figured out a way that I can see my daughter a couple times a day, and this was one of them.”

It’s amazing how we get so caught up in our own agendas, our own stories, that we forget that those people we see each day are also humans with their own stories. When I heard Tara share this, I nearly cried. And then I imagined how it could have gone had the general lost patience and said something negative, and how the checkout lady would have felt, knowing this was one of only two times she would see her daughter that day. I imagined myself as that mom, who is trying to make everything work. I thought of my own mom, who was a single parent for many years and had worked two jobs to make ends meet.

I appreciated Tara’s reminder of humanity, and the reminder that I could identify with both the single parent family, and the impatient general.

There were other great things from Tara’s talk, and the rest of the conference. I’ll use them for other blogs. I think the story stands on its own today.


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