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A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

Overheard

December 21st, 2005

Here in the Phoenix valley, conveniences abound. Drive three minutes in any direction from my house and you’ll find a Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, Home Depot, Discount Tire, and numerous large grocery stores. Not to mention the endless strip malls full of specialty shops. Anyone need to refurbish a Ford Mustang? Buy a dune buggy? Just go across the street. Here in the East Valley it seems the four quadrants of every major intersection are occupied by a Circle K, Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy, and a Mormon church. If you really want to go out of your way and drive for five minutes, you can add a Super Wal-Mart, the huge Chandler Fashion Center Mall, a couple 24-screen movie theaters and more restaurants than you could patronize in a year.

The ease with which one can conduct their business tends to make one less disciplined in their schedule. There’s really nothing here you can do at 10 o’clock in the morning that you can’t do at 10 o’clock at night. We even have a do it yourself all-night Post Office. There’s no line at midnight. And if the box you’re mailing is too big to fit in the bin, FedEx-Kinko’s is right up the road, open 24/7.

The common denominator of our increasing conveniences is the absence of human interaction. Technology has made it possible to take care of business without having to talk to anyone. In my little world I can utilize the walk up machine and be my own postmaster. I can scan and check out my own groceries, do my banking at the ATM, and pump my own gas. And we haven’t even mentioned online bill pay and shopping via the Internet. We “talk” with machines and computers every day. A person could go a long time without talking to another human being if they had to. Or wanted to.

That thought is unsettling to me.

When we’re able to do most everything on our own, we stop needing one another. If I can be self-sufficient, why bother getting to know my neighbors? Instead of seeing people in stores as human beings created in the image of God with all the hopes and fears and frustrations that we have, they become a blurry moving mosaic that occasionally bumps our cart as we push through the frozen food aisle to pay and leave. It’s appropriate. Because we really have “checked out”. We’ve stopped hearing the people around us.

I was thinking about this the other day as I walked into Fry’s Food and Drug. Most every grocery store here has a bank inside. The one I frequent is no exception. I’m the next person in line to speak with a teller. It was the start of what I overheard in ten minutes at the store.

The woman at the counter is stuffing a receipt into her checkbook as the Wells Fargo rep asks, “Do you have family coming home for Christmas?”

“I wish I had family coming home. My son’s dead. This will be my second Christmas without him.” The teller looked awkward and surprised. “I’m…sorry. I hope your holiday is… as good as it can be.” Sometimes a kind wish for a sad person is the best we can offer.

“Hey! Excuse me, lady! Wait up!” A rumpled, needs a shave and a haircut 50-something man with eyeglasses sliding off the end of his nose is nearly out of breath. He’s chasing down a harried looking lady in blue sweat pants and faded t-shirt. She turns, eyebrows raised in suspicion.

“Hey! Wait up. You dropped this. Back there at the SRP counter. It was on the floor. I grabbed it for you.” He held out a fistful of crumpled cash. She looked confused. And preoccupied. As though whatever was happening in her day was so suffocating that even the act of a Good Samaritan returning lost money didn’t phase her. She mumbled a “thanks” and took the money back without bothering to count or examine it.

Back by the orange juice section a young mom was weighing her options while her three year old sat in the cart, head bobbing to “Jingle Bell Rock”. Mom noticed and said, “Are you dancing? You’re a good dancer.” She reached for the moving target and tried to pat her daughter on the noggin. I smiled and the little one smiled back, head still bobbing, her ponytail bouncing on the off beat.

At the checkout line two cashiers were having a conversation about people they knew with holiday names. “I once worked with a girl whose name was Mary. Guess what her last name was? Christmas. Imagine. What parents would do that to their kid?”

“Mary Christmas? At the last store I worked at there was a lady in the bakery named Candy. Her last name was Kane. She got teased a lot this time of year.”

On the way out of the store I walked by another conversation. A woman on a cell phone was giving what for to some person on the other end. At least that’s what it seemed like to me. But I can’t be sure. I don’t speak Japanese.

When we take time to listen, we hear more than words. We hear life. We hear people’s fears. We hear their joys. Their frustrations. We hear their pain. Their hopes and expectations. We hear the emotions that are common to all who live on earth. And that’s the key. As much as we think we can do life on our own, we’re all in this together. God created us to live in community. The snippets of conversation I overheard in ten minutes at the grocery store reminded me that I’m not the only person in the world. You’d think that fact would be obvious. But then you don’t know how completely self-absorbed I can be. Listening, among its other benefits, reminds us that life isn’t all about us.

Somewhere within five minutes of my house on Christmas day there will be a lady grieving and a little girl dancing. I know that because I listened. I said a prayer for both. It seemed like something I’d want someone to do for me.

Next time you go to the grocery store, listen. And say a prayer.

Because we’re all in this together.