Walking right past the guy who greets you
I finish my shopping at the local All-Mart and make my way through the checkout stand. My ride isn't here yet, so when I get to the front door, I decide to sit on the bench inside to wait, with my loaded shopping cart beside me.
From this vantage point I watch the ebb and flow of humans going in to consume, and flowing out with their newly acquired stuff. It's a kind of mechanical stream and my mind goes numb to it.
Then I hear a cough and notice across the entry area sits a fellow who, I realize, is like a fixture to the place. He's the greeter guy, the fellow who says "Hello" when you walk in and "Good-bye" or "Thanks for coming" or "See you again" when you leave. He's always there, so much that I realize I've taken him for granted. But there he is, howdying and good-byeing. Then the area clears and I'm still staring at him and he turns to stare at me.
So I say hello to him and he offers his polished "Hello" to me. Then a long pause while we wait for each other to say something more because it seems like we should. So I say to him, "How long have you worked here?" and he tells me he's been here 12 years. Twelve years! Amazing. And yet, it makes sense because he's been here as long as I can remember.
People start flowing through again, interrupting what is barely a conversation. But we're still aware of each other, and when the flow dies away, I ask him if people who come through are generally good. He can't hear me in the echoey confines of the area, so I get up from my bench and cross over to where he sits.
There's a stool next to him so I perch on it and ask again, "So, do you find people are generally nice or not?" and he immediately launches into his opinion that nearly all the people who come through the doors are good people. He adds there are a few not-so-normal ones, a few angry ones, and a few rude ones -- to be expected, for sure. But his general opinion of people is positive, even after 12 years of sitting there in the flow of them.
During his dialogue, people continue to flow in and out and without breaking his sentences to me he wishes them a hello or a good-bye. Some respond, some don't. Some barely notice him, some don't even realize he's there, a few smile at him. But he sees them, and every one of them gets a greeting, coming or going.
I learn this isn't his only job. In fact, he works 60 hours a week -- 40 hours here and then another 20 at the local military base. I've always assumed, somehow, that he's a vet. Maybe it's the cap he wears that has some kind of winged insignia. Maybe it's the tough-guy look he's got. Maybe it's the wheelchair he calls home.
He shifts in his chair while we talk. The upper part of his body is strong. He grabs one leg and adjusts it, then the other, bringing himself up into a straighter position. We keep talking. Or rather, he keeps talking and I keep listening, because his voice and his story could go on for a long time before I'd want to interrupt. He's just turned 64, he tells me as he nods at another family who smile and nod back.
"So, are you ever going to retire?" I ask him.
He shakes his head.
"Retire? What would I do? Just sit around? I can do that right here," he grins, smacking his chair with his hand, amused at the joke he just cracked on himself. Then his face sobers up as he looks away, ponders, then quietly adds, "You have to keep going. Otherwise you might just start feeling sorry for yourself and start whining about 'Why me.' Naw. I'll never retire. Don't want to."
He makes me think long and hard about my own world, the one I'll return to in a moment when my ride gets here, the one I'll just walk off to. I look at him with new eyes, and an instantly developed sense of awe. I've just seen the tiniest glimpse into the world of a stranger, and he is amazing. And I've walked right past him for years.
You find heroes in the strangest places.
Sometimes they even look you in the eye and say, "Hello."
You may contact D. Louise Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling ehr editor at 801-625-4223.