Hmm, the lessons keep coming … number four, is it not? I feel like Robert Fulghum, author of “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten.” Although I can’t really compare cashiering to pre-school there is a slight parallel in that while my work is seemingly basic is has, like kindergarten, not only unlimited potential for learning and growth but universal applications.
So, here we go. I was serving my umpteenth customer when, between a combination of both of our ignorance, we irritated each other. It doesn’t matter what the cause but with dual stubbornness we both chose in that immediate moment not to remedy the situation but stay in our grumpiness. She left, dissatisfied at best, and the next customer appeared. I looked at this new person. The better part of me wanted to establish a connection but another part, one buried deep within, age-old and bitter in taste, was bearing down with heavy hands. It hung onto the mood left over by the last encounter. It didn’t want to breathe in new air; it wanted to suck in the fumes of self-righteousness, judgment and self pity. These, however, were but masks that hid what I was really feeling. Feeding these noxious vapours was guilt: I had failed, it was my fault the connection had gone awry; I was in the wrong.
Hanging on to guilt, taking too much responsibility and indulging in self recriminations are part and parcel of codependent behaviour. Seductive in nature these behaviours urge you in soft, warm tones to continue the self-torture, convincing yourself that the pain of failure will only be relieved with self-abnegation. Feelings like these have a sense of the familiar that is almost ... almost pleasant. Usually learned in childhood, they have been with you for a long time—there is a comfort in what you know. Moreover, they provide the illusion of protection: it is near impossible to open your heart to another when you are closed off behind dark thoughts—it is better to kick yourself, the purported rationale goes, than risk being kicked by another.
In the past I was quite adept at hanging on to those soulless thoughts. Even if my role, in whatever conflict there was to be had, was very small, I could (and did) take on more than my share of responsibility. Remorse could last all day; sometimes many days. But times have changed. It has been easier these past few years to shed the burden of always being wrong. I haven’t always been successful, as those who read my blog know so well, but something clicked that day. I had choice. I could continue feeling guilty and miss out on creating a connection with this new customer or I could just acknowledge my part in the previous transaction, remedy (if necessary) my behaviour and move on. Time, as clichéd as it sounds, stood still: noises ceased; movement slowed; a choice was to be made… had to be made.
I won’t say it was easy. I won’t even say I did it willingly. A part of me wanted so much to hang onto the feelings that spoke of my failure. But another customer was before me demanding my attention. I looked at him; I looked within. A wall of my own making stood between us. I made a choice. It surprised me how well it worked. I opened my heart.
Milton said it best when he gave words to the Archangel Lucifer soon after his fall from Heaven: The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n. What matter where, if I be still the same …