My stomach knotted in the grocery checkout line Thursday. The reason for such annoyance mystified me. To everything the cashier said to her, the woman in front of me distinctly replied, “Thank you.” Here is just a portion of their “conversation”:
“Customers aren’t supposed to take the coupons off packages; only the cashier.”
“Thank you for telling me.”
“Your total is $56.37.”
“Paper or plastic?”
“Paper. Thank you.”
“Here’s your receipt.”
Yipes, lady, how much sugar did you eat for breakfast? You’re about 30 years too young to remember the Pollyanna movie. What is with you? I might well have asked myself what was with me that someone’s simple courtesy would so jangle my nerves. Long before that lady’s conversation ended, I wanted to put my hands over my ears and childishly chant, “I can’t heeeaaar you.”
I forgot about this irritating über-politeness until Friday while visiting my father. When I spotted his wheelchair halfway down the Alzheimer’s wing hall, my steps sprang forward. I bent down to hold his warm outstretched hand, lean toward his smile, and introduce myself.
“Hi Dad! It’s Jane.”
“Thank you.” (Just a month or so ago he would have said, “How nice to see you, dear.”)
“How would you like to go down the hall and work a puzzle?”
“Thank you.” (Earlier this summer, he would have said, “I think I’d like that.”)
“Look at how bright green the frog in the puzzle is!”
“Yes. Thank you.” (Before, he would have simply agreed.)
“Oh look, they’re going to have a party—and you’re invited. There’ll be singing, and you like music.”
“Thank you.” (Not too long ago Dad would have said, “All right” and added, “Yes, I do love music.”
Mystery solved. This explains my irritation in the grocery store. I wasn’t nettled by that customer’s politeness. I was angry at Alzheimer’s disease, the thief that just this summer blindfolded us all, stole in, ransacked my crossword-puzzle-champion, punster-extraordinaire father’s vocabulary, and left only “thank you.” In the past few weeks’ visits to my dad, I had heard repeated “thank you” responses and just figured, well, he’s just recovering from the same respiratory tract infection others in his hall contracted, and he’ll regain some words. I didn’t understand my twisted gut in the grocery store until Friday’s nursing home visit, when I felt wrung out to realize Dad’s other words are gone for good.
Thank you, Lord, that the words you chose to preserve in my father’s end days are kind and gentle words.
Thank you for taking care of him with kind nurses and aides.
Thank you for Dad’s gentleness our whole lives.
Oh, and BTW, thank you for the grocery store lady’s courtesy to that cashier. Despite my reaction Thursday, I treasure kindness and your having ingrained it in so many people in my life.