Standing in a very long check-out line to make several purchases, I overhear pieces of several conversations between the woman in front of me and a crew of her closest friends. The woman has recently relocated to escape a situation of domestic abuse.
Pieces of her story hang, unfiltered, amid the air of the retailer’s big box. She is in town because a friend paid for her transportation, as well as offering her a place of refuge. Her former boyfriend, it seems, had an “addiction” to a string of old girlfriends and prostitutes, though this woman had had hopes of reforming him. The stitches she needed in her face caused her to give up her dreams of reform and seek the help of an old friend.
At one point in our long wait in the slow moving line at a cash register, a woman behind me asks whether or not we are mother and daughter, out on a shopping trip.
I reply, “No. No, we are not.”
Yet, the young woman in front of me could be my daughter, she is young enough, or your daughter or our daughter because her narrative, in many ways, makes her everyone’s daughter.
At one junction in our long wait and in between the young woman’s brief conversations, a scruffy looking man enters the store. The young woman turns around to face me, asking in an urgent whisper, “Did you see that? That man has a gun.”
“No, I did not see it. Where was it on his person?” I ask, leaning in to reply.
“It was tucked into the edge of his jeans, by his side.”
“If that is what you saw, then you should report it,” I caution.
“I can’t. I am too scared.”
“I did not see what you saw. But, if you are sure and remain concerned, then it should be reported.”
With resolve entering her voice, she says, “With everything that has been in the news lately, I have to say something.”
The young woman motions to the man bagging purchases and whispers a description of the customer to him. Soon, the store’s security guard has been alerted. A search of the immediate area ensues.
Then, in an uncomfortable series of minutes, everyone in line observes as a very sinewy and hardscrabble of a man goes through a brief search. The man is not happy about the invasion of his privacy or the public spectacle. The “gun” is revealed to be an oddly shaped cellphone case attached to the man’s belt.
When the search is over, the store employees apologize to the older man, as he collects–in palpable consternation–the jacket he had to remove. The tension around the scene begins to dissipate.
Meanwhile, our line has continued to move and the young woman has completed making her purchases. As I take my turn at the cash register, I hear the store security man and the bagger attempt to lighten the tension in the air by making several inappropriate remarks about the young woman’s inability to judge situations and about her “seeing things.”
Turning to face both men, I break my silence to explain that the young woman who reported the incident had just left a situation of domestic violence. And, given her experiential profile and the news lately, she had every right to be concerned about her personal safety in a public place. Her perception of the situation was completely understandable.
This narrative reminds us to remain compassionate and to foster a respectful attitude toward our very singular perspectives on life, because–as strangers–we never really know what is packed away in another person’s travelling bags.