I walk the aisles of an unfamiliar grocery store in the town where we’re vacationing. It’s strange how places have their scents — this one is sunscreen and mangoes and salt. I pass the deli and the cereal aisle, the ice cream coolers, and the rows of egg cartons. Eventually, I find the school supply section. It’s small, as if such pursuits in a beach town are to be hidden rather than encouraged.
I stand in front of the spiral notebooks, clean and new. Small worlds of possibility bound with wire. In my eagerness I reach too quickly for a notebook, and in doing so I clumsily brush the edge of a box of light bulbs sitting just to the left of it. I watch, slow motion, as they tumble like a bird shot by a hunter and land with a thud on the linoleum floor.
The box is solid, and I can’t see the bulbs inside so at first I hope. Surely they’re fine, I tell myself. It wasn’t that hard of a bump. It wasn’t that far of a fall. But when I pick up the little package I hear it, the sound of shattered pieces on the inside. I shake it just to be sure like an inquisitive baby would a rattle, and it sounds like wind chimes. I cannot appreciate the lovely noise. It only sounds like fear and failure to me.
I stand for a moment, notebook in one hand and box in the other. Then I march, determinedly, to the customer service desk as if I’m a student on the way to the principal’s office. I have always been a rule follower and on the single occasion I got sent to the office (for chatting with my boyfriend in the hallway long after the bell had rung), I walked with my head lowered and shoulders slumped. My posture is the same as I approach the counter and hold out the box, the source of such shame.
The young woman behind the counter tilts her head curiously. I clear my throat and prepare for my confession, sure I will be sent to the grocery store version of jail. “I knocked this over, and it broke,” I say, finally daring to meet the eyes of my judge and jury.
She pauses for a moment and considers me, standing there in such a state of sad penance. Then she laughs right out loud, a sound like the waves against the shore, and exclaims, “Girl, we all make mistakes every day. You don’t have to pay anything.” I stand there, shocked and grateful before stammering a thank you and backing away slowly as if she might change her mind. Then quite unexpectedly, tears come to my eyes.
I consider why this small exchange might evoke such a response, and I realize it’s because I go around damaging fragile things quite a lot. Don’t we all? Oh, we don’t mean to most of the time. But we are all in need of extravagant, unending grace.
As I make my way toward my husband, who is waiting patiently beneath a palm tree outside, I know already that I will write about this experience in my notebook the next morning. I will record the words of the customer service woman, a prophetess in a grocery store uniform. “We all make mistakes every day,” she said, “You don’t have to pay anything.”
I will breathe another sigh of relief when I revisit her proclamations.
I will thank the One who says those same words to me.
I will pray for the courage to say them to others.