I had been on the refund desk at my part-time job for about four hours when he arrived. A fairly regular customer, we enjoyed a somewhat genial rapport. He wanted to exchange a couple of carriage bolts for shorter ones. No problem. The transaction begins when he notices the latter are more expensive by thirty-five cents.
It makes no sense, he says.
I try to explain: we are in the middle of changing suppliers, they may come from different wholesalers.
But it doesn’t make sense, he says again.
Well, it may also be old and new stock, or the more expensive one may be more popular.
It doesn’t make sense, he adamantly repeats.
Getting a little frustrated myself I say: well, retail doesn’t always make sense.
He glares at me. I just wanted some empathy! and storms out.
I laugh to myself after he leaves. Seriously, I think, you want me to give empathy over a bolt? Really? I save my empathy for more important things, thank you very much.
I hold on to my self-righteousness for a few days until I tell the story to a friend. She says: good for him. He expressed his needs. I look at her with some chagrin. It was just a funny story, I say, and you’re not getting it. Besides that, I think to myself, I was in the right; he doesn’t need your support.
Then I sat with it. It took a day or so but finally my holier-than-though attitude changed. She was right. I am not saying that carriage bolts are important in the large scheme of things nor am I saying that I should have stopped everything and given him a hug. But maybe, just maybe there was something behind the thirty-five cent outrage. Perhaps he had just finished visiting a loved-one in hospital, had gotten laid off or had received divorce papers. Who knows? What I do know is that he grew increasingly frustrated with me trying to “fix” his supposed confusion. He didn’t want a logical explanation. He didn’t want to be fixed. All he wanted was for someone to say, yeah, you are right, it doesn’t make sense.
It wouldn’t have solved his problems but maybe he would have felt heard. And, in being heard, just maybe, the bigger wounds, the ones I had no inkling of, may have felt a bit of comfort.