Life in the Slow Lane
By Sharon Struth
I scrambled onto the checkout line at the home improvement store behind a man holding about fifty of the same outlet cover. This would be fast. The cashier should enter one, then say “Sir, how many of these do you have?” input the quantity and hit total. I’d be next.
The cashier lifted one and passed it over the scanner.
What happened next was so far away from how I’d imagined it that I almost needed a taxi to get there.
She lifted another and repeated the process.
Beep. Then a third. Beep.
My shoulders tensed. The cashier was merely a teenager, perhaps a new hire. Was this larger quantity situation a first? Maybe her training had overlooked the method I’d considered. A familiar anxious twirl circled in my gut, the wind-up before the pitch during the moment when words exit my mouth which shouldn’t.
“Excuse me,” I finally said.
She looked up.
“Can’t you just scan one then put in the total quantity?”
The customer with the outlet covers nodded in solidarity. But his tight lips suggested he wasn’t going to utter a single word to help plead my case. The cashier tucked one side of her long straight hair behind an ear and gave me a stare so cold it could have made ice shiver.
As the mother of two teenage daughters, her silent gawk left me undaunted. “You could enter fifty items at $3.50 each, and the register will calculate the total amount.”
Her lips twitched. “No, ma’am. I have to do each one.”
She scanned the fourth one. Beep.
The man behind me exhaled a weary sigh.
I turned to him. “Just a recommendation. If you ever see me in a line again, head for a different one.”
“Let me know where you’ll be going next,” he grumbled.
It wasn’t the first time something like this had happened to me. And this time, like all the others, I gritted my teeth, thought about everything else I needed to get done that day and waited out the transaction.
I’ve been born with the uncanny ability – whether at McDonald’s, the supermarket or the bank – to consistently make the wrong choice when it comes to any type of check-out situation. And I never take them in stride.
I sigh, tap my foot and pass nervous glances at other lanes to see if a strategic switch is in order. I watch the lucky ones on the line next to me zip through fast and problem-free. Do they have a sixth sense for the speedy queue? Each incident leaves me tense and frustrated.
But two days after the outlet-cover incident, during a long overdue routine medical check-up, I received some humbling news.
Glancing over his half-framed reading glasses, my doctor said. “You suffer from hypertension. High blood pressure.”
His grave expression made me nervous. “How bad is it?”
“It’s waaaaay too high. Have you been feeling stressed lately?”
“No.” I said with a defensive clip. “Well, no more than usual.” The encounter from two days earlier was still fresh in my thoughts. “Guess I do get aggravated easily.”
“That’s not good.” He shook his head, a silent tsk. “What’s going on?”
Nothing new, I thought. But maybe, now that I was over fifty, my body was sending me a message. A little hint it didn’t have the wherewithal to get so hot and bothered over every little thing.
“I suppose I don’t handle stress well,” I admitted.
“Hmmm. Well, first, we need to put you on medication.” He grabbed the prescription pad, scribbled something and handed it to me.
Then, without a word, he began jotting notes on a second prescription sheet. Anxious and curious as to what he was writing, my leg jiggled against the examination table.
He tore it off. “This is just as important as the medication. You need to learn to relax.”
I studied his note. Count to ten. Take a yoga class. Exercise. Think big picture. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
“I don’t have time to do yoga,” I said, aggravated by yet another thing to add to my to-do list. “And I know how to relax. Besides, shouldn’t the medication alone fix the prob-” I stopped when it hit me; he was right.
He pointed to the first item on the list, and I nodded. “One, two, three…”
Oddly, it worked. I returned home with a renewed attitude; confident that with age (and hypertension) comes some newfound wisdom. And it started with a new outlook at the one situation which I seemed to have the least control; my lane holdups.
Now, the stretches of time I spend waiting to check-out at a store or make my bank deposit are referred to it as my newfound “free” time. When delayed, I skim a magazine where I catch up on the latest celebrity gossip, memorize a new recipe or catch a few tips on how to “spice it up” in the bedroom.
Or I scan the impulse purchase end cap where I assess my household’s battery and lip moisturizer needs.
Sometimes, I consider the rates on six month certificates of deposits and calculate how much interest I might make.
In fact, I’ve decided maybe it’s my destiny to be there, to take a second to enjoy the view, to breathe, to relax and not take such an insignificant moment in life so seriously.
This more Zen-like approach has brought me a surprising measure of peace which had been missing before. After all, why am I in such a big hurry? Even if I have an important destination, what’s the worst that could happen? Will stock markets crash, governments crumble or anarchy develop across the nation? Not likely.
So now, if you do find yourself delayed on a line one day, look around. If you see me there, tap me on the shoulder. We’ll do some relaxation breathing together.
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