I was standing behind a talkative woman in line at Wal-mart yesterday.
Hmm . . . Let me qualify this by saying, I am usually the talkative person in whatever group I'm in, so this is in no way a criticism of her conversational skills. I enjoy other talkative people and find it a bit of a relief to find someone who I can't run over the top of. It was the topic of her conversation that draws this fire.
I am still hurting intermittently and, by the time I finished shopping, I was aching, bleary-eyed from not sleeping well, and really anxious to just get out of the store and get home. So I was more than happy to let someone else carry on the patter.
The woman was in her sixties, short, with wire framed glasses, and long gray hair worn in a loose pony tail. She identified herself as a teacher at one point in her diatribe.
The cashier was a slightly round, pleasant-faced young brunette named Beth. She looked to about eighteen and handled the cash register and counting back change like she was new at it. Beth was genuinely interested in what the woman was saying and they were moving fairly slowly through the process of getting the woman checked out.
The woman was talking to anyone who would listen to her about Palin's speech and how disgusted she was with the entire scene. McCain was hugging Palin too much. Palin was unnecessarily nasty and said nothing about the issues. None of the candidates were going to get her vote because that Obama is a socialist and we don't need any of those here. And so on.
And so on.
And so on.
I had no trouble with her venting. I even agreed aloud with some of it. She needed to be mad at our government and I understand. Sometimes I am too. I did sort of wish she wasn't doing it right then, but I reminded myself of all the times I've probably been guilty of this very same thing.
Beth had some trouble with the cash register not wanting to print the woman's check and got flustered; she grew more so when she discovered she'd missed a pile of the woman's items, thinking they were mine. It was an easy mistake to make. I noted when I began unloading my things that the woman had grouped her items in two piles with a fair amount of space between--one clothing, one baked goods. I'd been careful to put a separator between ours (Good fences make good neighbors and all that) or her stuff would likely have been run across as a part of mine.
Beth, apologizing repeatedly, had to ask the woman for another check. The woman asked her why. Couldn't she just add it to the amount on the check she'd already written. There was a moment of silence and I had the oddest feeling she wanted the girl to just give her the items.
Beth, friendly, young, and new at her job, never caught it (or if she did, she didn't show it). She simply asked the woman if she still wanted the items and, if so, she needed to write another check.
The woman went on about politics as she wrote the second one, and finally said, "America no longer a great country. We're on out way out. We're nothing. Just nothing. And I'm ashamed to live here."
You may be surprised to learn that statements like this annoy me (yes, that was facetious). While my country certainly has some competition these days, it is, in my estimation, a great place to live. Are there huge problems? Yup. There always have been and there always will be. Mostly because the place is run by a group of imperfect human beings who prize freedom almost to their own detriment at times, who all have different ideas as to how to define those freedoms, and will go to great lengths to preserve them (up to and including protesting at political conventions). Thank god.
So maybe because I was hurting and tired, or maybe because the girl across from me was about the same age as my oldest son, I just wasn't quite able to stop myself. I smiled and asked her when was the last time she'd heard of anyone trying to defect to China, or India, or Japan, or Russia. She replied that the only reason people in our country don't leave more often is because we're ignorant and don't know enough about the others. I asked her if she'd ever considered leaving since she doesn't like it here anymore. I kept my tone light and friendly, but I'm sure there was no mistaking my intent.
Her mouth closed and opened a couple of times, but no sound came out.
I immediately felt bad. This isn't my style at all; I generally let people like this have their say, but the rapt attention of the young cashier bothered me. This woman is a teacher? , I thought.
Looking back and forth between us, poor Beth couldn't hand the woman her bags fast enough. I think she thought things were about to get heated. But for whatever reason they didn't. The woman pushed her cart away at a quick clip, probably in search of another audience, leaving me to wrestle with my guilty conscience at having ruined her fun.
After she left, Beth ran my things across the scanner and she asked me what my stand was. I answered her and asked if she'd given it any thought yet.
She fumbled through counting my change back to me (man-oh-man I'd be a lousy cashier) and confessed that she was still trying to sort it all out.
"Do yourself a favor," I said. "Don't listen to gossip. Do your homework, hit up the internet, read the papers, look at the candidates's sites. Base your decision on what you believe is best for our country, because we've got our problems and lots of them, but we're not nothing."
Beth paused for a brief moment, met my eyes, smiled and agreed. I think she wanted to ask another question, but the people in line behind me, already held up by the woman ahead of me, deserved her undivided attention.
I thought about that woman and her comments all the way home. I really hope she has the sense to keep her thoughts on the condition of our country to herself instead of spreading it to classrooms full of students.
I've heard variations on her words repeatedly throughout my life, sung to a variety of different tunes and beaten out on different drums. And I can't help but think that the fatalistic attitude is, well, fatalistic. If we continue to communicate this attitude to those around us, especially the younger ones, what are we going to wind up with but a generation who sees no point in trying to save our country. Why protest if the cause is lost? Why vote if it doesn't matter? The truth is, I'd rather see people act badly in the name of a cause than not act at all. Right or wrong, I'd rather people break windows and resist arrest than stand indifferently on the sidewalk and watch the parade of politicians with their harmful self-serving policies act without fear of retribution.
There is a saying in Christian circles that's been rewritten and re-attributed to everyone from William Buroughs to C.S. Lewis. One of the versions is this: "The object of the game is find your Adversary. Your Adversary's game plan is to persuade you he does not exist."
I cannot help but think that if there is any kind of governmental conspiracy going on in our country it is to keep us either convinced that there are no problems (aren't you glad to hear that there's recession? I know I am), or if that doesn't work, that the problems are insurmountable so as to keep us paralyzed while they go about their policy making and rearranging of our world.
Perhaps one of our generation's primary responsibilities is stay alert to this attempt to lull us to into these states, so we can guide the next toward electing leaders who are more interested in serving. Maybe in addition to teaching them how to pray, brush their teeth, and eat their veggies, we need to hand them the protest signs and point them toward Washington, teach them how to march, and how to raise their voices in objection, or maybe we just need to teach them their vote matters and that their country is a great place to live. Anything has got to be better than telling them it's nothing.