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. 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.
P.S. If you’d like more encouragement and grace, you’ll find it in my new gift book with DaySpring, Promises from God for Life’s Hard Moments, and the companion journal (the cover says, “She Believed She Was Loved and It Made Her Brave”).