It was a hot and humid day. So hot and humid that even in this store the warm, thick air fought with the air-conditioner in a life or death struggle over which would hold the consumers in its embrace. The air-conditioner was putting up a good fight, but it was just barely prevailing. It was much like when Harry Potter and Voldemort clashed wands; except the air-conditioner (though clearly the protagonist in this competition and representing Harry Potter in this analogy) had no long-lost relatives and friends to rally around him and cheer him on. He was losing the fight.
This was not the first time. Here in Singapore, there are many such battles on many such days as this.
It’s hard being an air-conditioner on a tropical island, but I would be the first to argue that it’s even harder being a fair (and by “fair” I mean extremely pale and white) damsel on a tropical island where air-conditioners always lose. Hot and slightly damp (my default condition in the tropics) and feeling like a melting icy-pole, I moved through the aisles, trying to gather up everything I came to the store for as quickly as I could in order to get home out of this heat.
Hustling through the store wasn’t easy. The store was full with the usual crowd that accompanies the after-school pick-up: a bunch of mostly Singaporeans feeling very kiasu. I didn’t blame them, really. This kind of weather makes everyone want to fight for the first place so they can get home quicker. It’s a truth (almost) universally acknowledged that people, whether they are frighteningly pale or not, don’t like to stay out long in the kind of heat that causes air-conditioners to fail.
It didn’t take me long to grab way more groceries than I needed (whoever said not to shop when you are hungry was dead right). I awkwardly waddled my way up to the counter, with my over-stuffed basket (I never think I will need a trolley) and arms aching, thankful to be able to put my basket down for a moment and ready to be out of there.
The line was long, but not uncharacteristically. There are a lot of people living here, and lines are usually long. There’s no such thing as getting in and out of a shop quickly unless you come early in the morning. The lady in front of me, however, was obviously not happy about the length of the line. Tutting, huffing, looking at her watch, and peering around the shoulders of the people in front of her over and over again – this lady was decidedly agitated.
She turned to me, “Very slow, lah!”
I smiled, “Well, she is quite busy.”
Without changing her expression or saying another word, she turned back around to tutt and huff.
Behind me, was a man with no arms below the elbow. I couldn’t stop staring; not because he had no arms, but because he was purchasing a glass bottle of drink and balancing the bottle with such ease. I couldn’t help but wonder how on earth he was going to open up the bottle once he left the store. Suddenly my aching arms carrying my overburdened basket didn’t seem such an inconvenience.
My reflections were interrupted by the lady in front of me. There was quite a kerfuffle. It had come to her turn to pay for her groceries and as she had gone to pass the money to the cashier, she had dropped 20 cents under the counter.
What followed was extremely awkward and slightly shocking to watch. Instead of trying to look for it herself (because she was the one that dropped it, after all), she ordered the cashier look for it. The cashier, embarrassed and flustered, scrambled around under the counter looking for it.
“It’s not here…”
She refused to offer the lady another 20 cents and continued to make this lady search. “You find it already!” The lady barked, “It down there!”
I snapped out of my shock and realised I could do something about this. I rustled through my purse and handed the cashier another 20 cents. The complaining lady simply looked at me and said, “Oh, you pay for me, ah?” and that was all. She left. No “thank you.” Not even a smile.
Once she left, the flustered cashier, still looking shocked and bewildered, turned to me, “I don’t understand why all this, uh! Just 20 cent only!”
Behind me in the queue, the man with no arms quietly balanced his bottle. He hadn’t huffed or tutted once.
Here’s what I learnt from a man with no arms and a 20 cent coin in the hot little NTUC grocery store that day:
- Before you complain, make sure you aren’t part of the problem. I think the lady that complained about the slowness held up the queue more than anyone. At least remove the plank in your own eye before picking out others flaws (Matthew 7:1-5).
- Don’t complain, period. Complaining is ugly and selfish. It gets you nowhere, and no one likes to hear it. There was a man behind me at the same time with no arms below the elbow who didn’t complain at all, though he really had more reason to than anyone in that queue. Sure, it was hot, it was busy, and the queue was long – but, for all her complaining, that lady never was able to make the line go faster. There is a reason that Paul wrote “do everything without grumbling” to the Philippians from a prison cell (Philippians 2:14). It just isn’t attractive or productive.
- Don’t make people do work you aren’t willing to do. Choose to be a blessing rather than a burden to others. Think about what you would like were you in their situation, and treat others how you would wish to be treated (Matthew 7:12).
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. 20 cents is 20cents. You’ll probably pick up another one when you walk out the door. That lady will forget about that 20 cents, but that cashier lady will likely never forget how she was made to crawl on the floor. We should be willing to be wronged rather than to wrong (1 Corinthians 6:7; Luke 6:29-31). Or as Singaporeans might say (if you can pardon my clumsy Singlish), “Just give 20 cents, liao! It’s 20 cents only!”
- Be thankful for what you do have. Imagine what our grandmothers and great-grandmothers had to do to get groceries, or think of the guy without arms. Be thankful you can pick from such a variety of things and simply have to stand in queue for a few minutes, no matter how heavy your basket is. Be thankful for everything (Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:18).
- Be thankful to others for what they give you. God works through others to give you blessings, so we should be thankful to those who are using what they have been given from God to help us. I wasn’t looking for thanks from this lady, but I didn’t have to pay that 20c either. The least I would expect was a “thank you,” or even a smile or a nod… but there was nothing. Unthankfulness produces grumpy, selfish people. Unthankfulness is one step away from God (Romans 1:21-25).
The bottom line?
Be grateful for and be a blessing with what you have.
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