SHARON RANDALL: Grace: The unexpected gift you must share

McClatchy-Tribune News Service Published:

We make the world a better place by being better people -- kinder, gentler, slow to judge, quick to offer grace.

I believe that. But some days, it's easier said than done.

Last week, I stopped at the market to pick up a few things. I was in a rush to get home and start dinner. Yes, that's a lame excuse, but it's all I've got.

I grabbed what I needed and dashed to the check-out stand. Lines were long, except at the 15-items-or-less counter, where only one customer was ahead of me: A man with just one item, a small jar of some kind of salve. He slammed it on the counter.

"I bought this yesterday," he told her, "and didn't get points. I want you to give me the points."

I hate points. I'm never sure how to use them. Apparently, if you save them up, you can get 10 cents off a gallon of gas under a full moon at a Speedy Mart 40 miles across town, if your membership card will scan at the pump, which mine will not.

I hate those cards. I can never find them when I need them. Then I have to get dirty looks for holding up the line while I paw through my purse for something that will give me a discount that everybody ought to get anyway.

But back to the man and his points. The clerk smiled and said, "Sorry, sir, you need to take that to customer service."

"No," he said. "You do it."

So she spent five minutes punching in numbers to refund, and then re-ring, the sale.

Meanwhile, the man ranted a blue streak on his cell phone to some poor soul (his wife?) about the audacity of the store, the ineptitude of its employees and the general unfairness of life.

"Here you go, sir," the clerk said. "I gave you the points."

He studied the receipt.

"I had more points before. What did you do with them?"

I started to offer him all the points that I never use, but a manager showed up to escort him to customer service.

When I told the clerk I admired her graciousness, she laughed. "Goes with the job," she said.

Driving home, I thought about her answer. It made me wonder. Is it really our "job" to offer grace to someone who is being so completely ungracious?

I've been asking myself that question for days now, and the answer keeps coming up "yes." Not because, like the clerk, I get paid to be gracious. But because grace is a gift I've been given countless times with just one condition: That I give it back.

I have no idea why the point man behaved as he did. I know nothing about him or what was going on his life.

Years ago, when my first husband was battling cancer, I lost patience for lots of stuff.

The December before he died, a friend came to stay with him so I could do some Christmas shopping. I promised to hurry back. In line at Macy's, I heard a woman complaining that she always had to buy her own gifts because her husband never gave her anything she liked.

I bit my lip so hard I tasted blood. Then a man cut in line to ask the clerk a question and I lost it. I heard myself yell, "Hey, buddy! There's a line here!"

Every head in the store turned to stare at me. I was mortified. I wanted to crawl under the counter and hide. Just when I thought it couldn't get worse, I burst into tears. And the woman who'd complained about her husband said, "It's OK, honey," and handed me a tissue.

No one that day could have known why I behaved as I did. I certainly didn't. But somehow it seemed they agreed, God bless them, to give me a little break.

I wish I'd done the same for the man who wanted his points.

Everybody needs a break once in a while. We don't have to know the reasons. We just have to remember that sooner or later, it will be our turn, yours or mine, to need a little grace.

Not to worry.

It will probably be me.

Sharon Randall can be contacted at P.O. Box 777394, Henderson NV 89077, or at www.sharonrandall.com.

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