National emergencies – whether man-made or acts of God – tend to bring out the worst in some people, and the best in others. I read a story the other day that showed an example of both – in the same incident.

The story was in Forbes online magazine, and had to do with a stock clerk, in a large grocery store, who was getting reamed out by a man who was livid because the store was out of Purell.

The customer was hollering at the clerk, telling  him – as if he had anything to do with it – that the store should have had more of the hand sanitizer on hand, knowing it would be in high demand because “this terrible virus has been going on for a while now.”

Then that stock clerk did something amazing. He reached in his pocket, pulled out a tiny, half-empty bottle of Purell and said it was all he had for his own personal use. He gave it to the man, telling him, “You need it more than I do.”

According to the Forbes article, that act of kindness and sacrifice brought the angry customer to tears. Reading about it almost brought me to tears, too.

The article went on to talk about panic and anger being offshoots of fear. To be honest, though, I didn’t pay much attention to the rest of the article. What stayed with me is the image of a grocery store worker being yelled at by a customer who was understandably frustrated, but should never have reacted so violently or taken it out on the clerk. And what I want to hold on to even more is the image of that store employee who – instead of reacting in kind and hollering back at the customer, or just turning his back on him and walking away – offered the man his own humble supply of what the man was looking for.

There’s certainly a lot of fear, anger, and confusion right now over the coronavirus and everything related to it, and it’s probably hard to say how we’d react in different circumstances. I have to admit I’d feel the same frustration as the customer in the store, although I hope I wouldn’t take it out on the clerk or anyone else in the vicinity. And while I like to think I’d be as generous and self-sacrificing as the store employee was, I’m not sure I’d give up my small, precious supply of sanitizer – or anything else I knew to be necessary for my own health and well-being – to a total stranger.

The best in us, the worst in us. We’re all going to be tested even more in the coming days and weeks, with many opportunities to show which will come out more during the challenges we’ll be facing.

I’m hoping for the best.

March 14, 2020
©Betty Liedtke, 2020

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