Sunday, 28 June 2020

View from the Crow's Nest: I wait in line.

The line-ups! Covid-19 has opened our eyes to the reality of queues, as the British would call them. The word comes from the Latin, “cauda” meaning tail. And when you see a long line-up outside at opening time, you can appreciate the etymology of the word: it does look like a giant tail stretching around the building. We avoid those kinds of waits, and drive away if there’s a long queue. It’s not good for the soul to put yourself in situations that you know will wind you up and leave you impatient and short-tempered.

But suppose the line is short, and you get in. The other day, I was in Costco for a quick “gather the necessities” trip. Yes, I was wearing my mask. I did my best to keep my 6 foot distance. But once I was finished my shopping, the check-out line-up was massive – from the front to the back of the store, and then half-way down a side aisle, all the carts spaced at 6 foot distance. I could have walked away, but the line moved quickly, and my soul wasn’t in danger of overheating. I was about two-thirds through, and I was still breathing normally.

Until...out of a side-aisle came an older couple, their buggy laden with those “conspicuous consumption” items that entice impulse shoppers to spend a wad.

The man’s head swivelled as he surveyed the situation, and then he did it: he nodded to the little woman, and then he pushed his cart and his wife into the line right in front of me. No mask, no 6 foot distancing, just someone with an attitude: “I’m a loyal shopper here, I’m entitled to a quick get-away, and the rest of you can just go fly a kite.” At least, that’s how I interpreted it – a jaded view, I admit. And that is not good for the observer’s soul.

I wonder what you would have done.

Perhaps you’re one of these “live and let-live” people who give folks the benefit of the doubt. Oh, I envy you! You’re thinking, “Well, maybe they have to be somewhere in 15 minutes, and so I’ll let them cut in.” Or, you say, “Oh, it’s only one person, not worth getting hot and bothered.” Or, “Karma will catch up with them in the end. I’ll let the universe take care of retribution.” or even, “What Would Jesus Do?” Jesus would be plenty busy at Costco. (If you want a chuckle, check out the link here...

I’d like to be like that, but I haven’t evolved spiritually to that level yet.

Maybe  you are the silent sufferer, the person who doesn’t like confrontations. Your appearance doesn’t change, but your insides do. You are muttering to yourself, “Okay,*@&#, be that way. I hope you get to the checkout and find out that you forgot your wallet. I hope every item in that cart needs to be returned because it is dysfunctional. I hope the shoes you’re buying give you a blister. And may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits.” I’ve been known to do this. Basically you are not wishing your neighbour well. This is not good for the soul.

Or, perhaps you are a little braver, and you let your displeasure show. You begin talking to the guy in line behind you, loud enough so Mr. And Mrs. Entitled can hear you: “Did you see that guy? He butted in line right in front of me. I guess he thinks he’s better than everyone else.” This is called passive-aggressive behaviour and I have been known to engage in it. Not good for the soul, either. Mr. And Mrs. Entitled will pretend they didn’t hear you, but at least you can tell yourself that you got it off your chest. Except you didn’t. You are still burning hours later when you recount the experience to a friend. Also not good for the soul.

So here’s what I did: “Excuse me, sir, the end of the line is back there,” I said, loud enough so he couldn’t help but hear me. If I’d stopped at that, my soul would have been safe. The ball is in his court. Now it’s up to him to do the right thing, and if he doesn’t, well, that’s his problem.

But this man moved into another mode, from Mr. Entitled to Mr. Schmoozer. “Oh, really?” he said innocently.  And the ball is in my court again. “Yes,” I said. If I’d stopped there, again I would have been safe. But, no, I had to be Ms. School Marm, telling off the naughty child: “...and I think you knew that too.” Busted, buddy. Ha. My soul’s warning lights were flashing, but did I pay attention? NO.

He smiles sheepishly. He doesn’t deny it. “Well,” he says, “will you let us in, anyway?” Nice play on my kindness and sympathy...which is not, unfortunately for him, in large supply now.

“Oh, I think not,” I say. “It’s not just me, it wouldn’t be fair to all the people who have been waiting behind me. Anyway, the line moves quickly.” I smiled encouragingly. In one fell swoop, I have taken away his escape net, showed my true colours, and sent him off with his tail between his legs. He has been suitably punished. I felt pretty proud of myself ... until I began thinking about it later. Waiting in line may not be good for the soul, but self-examination definitely is.

So I ask myself now, not, WWJD? But WWJSay? Jesus might have asked his audience, “Who sinned the greater here, the line jumper or the lady with the mouth on her?”

I had three chances to do the right thing, and I blew them all. And did I mention, my soul has a bit of growing to do? Sigh. Why does it take so long to learn?

I gotta say, shopping at Costco is not good for the soul. At least not mine. Next time, I’ll send the resident sweetie.


  1. It seems to me you were very courteous. Jesus didn't say we had to let everyone walk all over us. Others encountering such bad behaviour might have been tempted to ram their shopping trolley smack bang into his Achilles' tendon. He was old enough to know better than to push in like a juvenile delinquent.

  2. Interesting reactions to this blog. Most felt the way you did. The righteousness of the cause is not in question. But I think it's the motivation behind my words that troubles me. I wanted to "best" him, to make him feel small. One wise old lady, a dear friend, said, "Perhaps Jesus would ask this fellow if there was a reason he needed to get to the checkout early -- feeling ill, an important appointment. If so, perhaps you could have told him that you would take his place at the end of the line, so as not to inconvenience the others behind you." Yikes! So I think Jesus might have done that, and no, I'm nowhere near that kind of self-sacrificing love.