I have had the opportunity through the roller coaster ride of parenting, to recently have met some very inspiring people in surprising locations.
Last week, as I was moving towards the checkout counter in Walmart with some groceries that are just so much cheaper there, a man attired in Walmart blue and wearing the authority of a manager or security official, stopped me to ask “if that was my son”, pointing at the 13 year old boy next to me, who indeed, was my son. He had been spotted stealing a lighter. We were ushered into a cramped security office with a wall of closed circuit camera screens in front of us. The man, whose name was Ray, sat my son down and explained in decided tones that he could contact the police and my son would be lumbered with a juvenile record, a $2,000 fine, and other unsavory results. He explained that he wasn’t going to do that because this was the first time he had caught my son shoplifting and he believed in giving people a second chance. He asked my son why he was stealing and why he was stealing a lighter.. My son shrugged with his tough guy demeanor in place, and answered “because it’s cool”. Ray than directed my son’s attention to me, his mother and explained how I was doing everything I could to put groceries on the table and that my son needed to understand that when he stole from Walmart, it was ultimately something that could raise prices and make life more difficult for people like his mother, in addition to causing untold stress to her. He waxed poetic about how important mothers are, explaining that his own mother had raised 4 kids in the Bronx, and look how it had ultimately led to him being the manager of a huge Walmart like this. Eventually, he asked my son to leave the room and wait outside. He turned to me and said that he hoped he hadn’t been too hard on my son, but he felt it was important to scare him so he never did this sort of thing again. I agreed and thanked him for his time with us. I really felt that he had been very intelligent and sensitive…somehow figuring out that it was probably the first time my son had attempted this, maybe through the sheer clumsiness of the attempt. I tried to find his full name later on a Walmart website to register my appreciation for him with the company, but to no avail.
I was struck by how well-matched Ray is with his job. He is completely invested in carrying out the duties and responsibilities of manager of a huge retail store. I have experienced this sense of “calling” in relation to drawing, painting, parenting, and teaching. With the first three, I am still trying to figure out the financial remuneration aspect. I manage to teach part time and earn a small amount through the last calling. It is sometimes wrenching not to be able to avail oneself of one’s calling(s) to earn money. I find myself in check-out lines watching the cashier to decide if she feels a calling for the position she is in, and wondering if maybe I could cultivate a feeling of calling for something useful like that; something with a pay check.
Then, having flown to Florida to assist my son with an emergency surgery on a broken ankle, I found myself with said son late at night at an IHOP which seemed to be the only restaurant still serving food on a Sunday night after 9PM in Sarasota. A slightly disheveled, but very personable middle-aged gentleman handed us menus and asked us what we would like to drink. He returned with drinks and asked why my son was on crutches; making sympathetic noises when my son explained that he’d gotten hurt playing soccer. We ordered, and the man assured my son the he would make the pancake order “all you can eat” at no extra charge, and then he would tell the cook to make a lot of them. He kind of ran back and forth from the kitchen, full of vigor and enthusiasm for his job. We could hear him in the kitchen telling the cook to make the larger amount of pancakes. He brought the food, and checked in with us to make sure it was all to our liking. Again, I was struck by his enthusiasm for his job.
Does that waiter really love his job? or is he actually an actor or poet or would-be biologist who couldn’t afford to go to college? or who went to college and couldn’t get a job in his field?
What about the car rental lady who was so efficient at her job that she had me signing for $50 worth of additional insurance even though I think I am probably covered for it on my own car insurance policy? Was she born to be a car rental lady?