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Discovering Kindness

The Unsung Hero in the Checkout Counter

by Amitabhan

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. --Christopher Reeve

I was driving home late one night and decided to make a stop at the supermarket down the street from my house. I wandered around the aisles for a surprisingly long time and finally ended up in the check out line with a tiny box of curiously-strong breath mints.

There was one person in line ahead of me. I vaguely noticed that the checker seemed to be making a lot of unusual movements – really bowing at the waist to pick up and scan items. I looked a little more closely and noticed that he didn’t have any hands. He also didn’t have any wrists. Both of his arms ended about two inches below the elbow. They came to a blunt, rounded end. The skin at then end of his arms was worn and fairly calloused.

He continued to pinch each item between his fingerless arms and pass it over the red beam of light until we heard the familiar “BEEP” of the barcode scanner.

After the final item he leaned forward and took the man’s cash, basically between his elbows, put the money in the register, and gave the man his change.

The checker was moving rather quickly. He was very efficient and focused. He scanned my tiny tin of mints, and reached forward for my money.

At this particular market, when you get change, the coins are dispensed automatically. I watched them roll down into a tray in front of me, before grabbing them and putting in my pocket. Thinking back on it now, I’m wondering if he handed me some bills back also. I’m not sure.

What I do remember, is that I felt like crying.

There was deep emotion, somewhere in my body. It was fairly easy to suppress. I’m not actually afraid of tears, and generally let them flow if something touches my heart, but I was in a state of confusion.

I was feeling tremendous respect for the man at the cash register, and something inside me didn’t want to disrespect him in any way by acknowledging his disability. Respecting him was more important than any emotional release on my part – at least that’s the way everything got translated and interpreted in my body during those quick seconds.

One thing seemed very clear. Despite considerable adversity, he was working double time to perform as well as, or more efficiently, than any other checker I’d ever seen.

I made my way to the rental car in the parking lot, and sat in the drivers seat in silence.

After a few minutes I started the car and drove home.


About a month later I was giving some guitar lessons. I left the music store and made my way to an errand nearby. For whatever reason, I was unusually unhurried.

I started thinking about the checker at the supermarket.

The experience made a deep impression on me, but I hadn’t sorted it out with words. Some of the scenes began to replay themselves in my mind and I started to sift through the experience.

There is a lot of grace in my life. Yet despite the tremendous support I’ve experienced and the amazing opportunities that have come my way, I still have plenty of struggle. I still have my internal battles to fight.

Virtue has the power to touch us. It has the power to penetrate through the shallow and go right to the heart of our being. Not preachy virtue (which is no virtue at all). And not showy virtue, that needs or loves recognition. But real virtue. That kind of virtue doesn’t need to be acknowledged or validated. When real virtue is being lived, when it is being expressed in human form - it is awe inspiring. And sometimes, it can also be extremely humbling to witness.

A real hero isn’t a muscle bound, scantily clad, axe-wielding character, slaying countless foes in hand-to hand combat.

The real hero, is the one who rises to the occasion.

If it was suddenly ten or twenty times harder to do the things I do everyday, would I rise to the occasion?

Would I work three or four times as hard as everyone else, to prove I was an asset and not a liability to anyone who would offer me employment?

Would I show up, day after day, without complaint?

I don’t know.
Maybe I would.
Maybe I wouldn’t.

But this guy did.

I don’t know why, and I don’t know how, but he chose to rise to the occasion.

And this is the part I’m not sure if I can communicate. Just the broad strokes of the situation rattled my cage. But there was a way he was doing it. There was something about the flavor of his activities.

There was no hint of asking for anything from me. He didn’t need a nod of reassurance or a gesture of support. As normal as walking, he was just taking care of business.

And maybe that was what hit me in the body - not in my mind. I was suddenly stopped in my tracks, trying to find an appropriate response amid the respect and care I was feeling for the man behind the counter.

I drove home and sat down at the computer. And a month later, as the typed words on the screen told the story, tears flowed down my cheeks.

And I didn’t suppress them.

And the softness inside my chest was warm and open.

And the grace that descended was familiar and sweet.

And for a long time, I just sat still, soaking up the exquisite enjoyment of being.

There are heroes among us. They rise to the occasion, whatever the particular occasion may be.

It’s easy to meet life, when its overflowing with milk and honey, or when the turquoise-blue waters are kissed by sunshine.

But can we say yes to life when the circumstances are difficult? Cruel? Ugly? Scorned? Unwanted? Utterly overwhelming?

Can we welcome adversity – invite him in, and give him a seat at the table? Can we accept what is, so that we are not crushed under the weight of the latest misfortune that appears?

There is a guy who works at the corner store near my house. I don’t know his name. He would never recognize me. But I doubt I’ll ever forget him.

And if he comes into my memory, there is an upwelling of respect, and a warm gratitude that flows, and a swell of emotion within that I still can’t put my finger on.

When real heroism steps out of a movie, or off the pages of a book… if it walks up to you, appears at your door - or scans your Altoids at the supermarket; it has the capacity to touch a part of you that has been sleeping.

It reaches right into your soul, and reminds you what you could be. It reminds you that there is so much to be grateful for. It reminds you that no matter what obstacles arise, or keep arising, or seem to be utterly crushing you; you can figure it out. There is a way. No matter what storms life may bring, when you meet real heroism, it reminds you what you sometimes forget: that you can rise to the occasion.

Source: Daily Good


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