This Ain’t Your Normal PSA

This ain’t your normal PSA.

(And for all my real, true friends, you already know this because I do not condone the use of the word “ain’t” unless I am seeking to gain every smidge of your attention. Now that I have it …)

You must know right off the bat that there are a few specific scenarios which could launch my mouth toward the customer service desk at Walmart, compel my hand to firmly grasp the microphone on that all-call public address system and just let ‘er rip with useful Public Service Announcements.

P S As should promote the general welfare of people in our fine nation. And, I usually get great ideas for most P S As by watching the people around me at Walmart. (The others I get from watching people drive … a totally different story).

Scenario One: I see a small child in a shopping basket. The child is rappelling up one of the retaining walls of said basket. The caretaker of the child turns their back to the child. Oh no, no, no, no, no.

Yes, I have been known to tell such a child (which did not necessarily come from my own loins) to sit or they will fall. Yes, I have pushed my own basket right up to the child’s basket to ensure that my loaf of bread or box of cereal cushions a certain fall. Yes, I have been known to rescue a child who has teetered over the edge of the basket.

And, yes, I have received a verbal backlash or a steel-blade-glare – or a combination of both – from more than one distracted caregiver.

I am totally fine with that. I would rather be on the receiving end of such backlash than see the suffering in a child’s eyes. You see, bad things happen when tiny heads crack against a thin layer of linoleum glued onto a hard concrete floor. I pray God that I should never actually witness that. I pray God that He allows me the courage to keep my eyes on all His little ones, and the courage to act should they need me.

A perfectly-worded, well-timed PSA would help in that area a great deal I think.

I believe in saving the children.

Scenario Two: The one time that woman came up behind me in the express checkout as I laid my three items on the conveyor belt, and proceeded to use her basket to push me forward, past the register, past the part where I pay and my three items are bagged, past the point where clerks begin to think stop the shoplifter if I haven’t given them some form of currency for my items.

I tried to stand my ground. Seriously. I grabbed the little hard rubber bumper of the conveyor belt, my fingernails digging long ditches. I imagined my feet were the roots of a tree and were digging into the ground.

No dice.

This woman was old, but apparently she was one of those unsuspecting, government engineered genetic crosses of Arnold Swarzenegger before he got the desk job, and the latest Iron Woman winner.

And even though there were plenty of people standing around, with their jaws dropped wide open at this woman’s strength and audacity, not one person said, “Hey, stop. That’s not nice.” I’m sure they’ve seen the elderly tear apart phone books and bend cast iron skillets before. Pushing a relatively young (ahem) woman from her place is simply a warm up to stranger feats of octogenarian strength.

After I paid, I thought I would have to go grab that microphone and do one of two things: reprimand strong old women for using their baskets as battering rams, or warn all the good people of Walmart to make way for Grandma Arnold.

Either of those PSAs would be in the public’s best interest.

I believe in saving face.

And then, there is Scenario Three. This happened just yesterday.

I am minding my own business, matching my gait with the length of my memory (because I hadn’t written Velveeta down on my list), when I head down the pasta/spaghetti sauce/Velveeta cheese aisle. In front of me, a woman, strolling, pushing a half-filled basket down the aisle. She hugs the right side because she is obviously an American and has been taught to stay in her own lane.

I’m not in any hurry. I’m in the aisle that has the cheese. There is no possible way that this post-baby brain is gonna forget the bright yellow and orange box that promises goodness to my family.

The woman leisurely picks up a box and reads the ingredients. I’ve already got a tally sheet of good things I like about this woman going. She is a conscious consumer. And, she didn’t feel the need to heap on jewelry and makeup and heels to go shopping. She’s wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. We are instant allies. I don’t tap my foot or clear my throat. I patiently wait my turn. I even put on my ‘yes’ face because I want her to feel comfortable with all of the lovely things she is doing. I make up this great story in my head about how she might be the sole caregiver for an elderly aunt and this is her only getaway, or she constantly volunteers and stopping to read the labels is her reward.

She sees me out of the corner of her eye, fumbles with the box and darts her hand forward to put it back on the shelf.

“Oh! I’m sorry,” she says and scurries away.

I check my mental mirror to make sure the ‘yes’ face is still working correctly. (Post baby brains do strange things sometimes, after all). The smile was still in place.

I heft the Velveeta into the crook of my arm and head down the aisle, I already know I’m gonna take a left, grab a loaf of whole wheat bread at the bakery and then scoot out of the store.

The woman is stopped again at the end of the aisle. This time, her basket is on the right, but her body needs something on the left. I strengthen my resolve on the ‘yes’ face and slow my walk to a shuffle.

Again, the woman sees me out of the corner of her eye. She retreats, utters another few apologies and then plasters her body as close as she can to her basket so I can pass.

I know a few things at this point.

First, I know that I don’t possibly stink. I have taken a shower and there is no baby puke splashed upon my clothes.

Second, I know what it’s like to live a life of compression.

I know what it is like to try to be so small that I am not an inconvenience to anyone in the world. I know what it is like to say, “No, please, your needs before mine, your wants before mine, you are better all the time, so let me compress into the smallest space possible, into this tiny, apologetic creature who shouldn’t even be breathing the same air that you are, please forgive, a thousand apologies, I’m not worth a dime …”

Third, I know that I hover between wanting to embrace her and wanting to smack some sense into her.

(Suddenly, it’s like she’s one of my teenagers!)

She says she is sorry, then her eyes hit the floor. I wish she could see how beautiful she is, just all on her own, standing there reading a food nutrition label in her sweatshirt and jeans. So, I want to hug her. This is not creepy, really.

I also want to rocket her consciousness into thinking that she doesn’t have to apologize for being in the same aisle as anyone else who wants to breathe. I want to put my hands on both sides of her face, force her to look into my eyes, and I want her to know she has every right to be there. And I want her to believe it. And I want to grip her shoulders and shake her a bit to make sure that she gets the full measure of: YOU AREN’T A SORRY CREATURE, YOU ARE AN AMAZING WOMAN! And I want to see the light of that realization completely light up her eyes.

Because I want to believe it for me. And I want that light in my eyes, too.

I believe in saving the women.

I don’t end up doing either of those things because all I really want to do is purchase the cheese and take it home to my family and not go to jail in the process. I don’t think it is quite legal to smack people, or to shake them until they see their own beauty.

A PSA in this case would save me a trip to jail.

I ducked down to look into her eyes because she was still staring at the floor and said, “You don’t have to be sorry.” And I meant it and I smiled a real, true smile.

And she smiled back.

Ladies, and some men, I want to hover somewhere between completely ignoring what is important and steamrolling you with my proverbial basket, so please don’t make me have to wrestle the store manager for the PA system.

It is not a sin to take up the precious space that God has already reserved for you in this world. You don’t have to be sorry for that.


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