I had walked into Macy's for a quick return. The store was rather empty and I was happy to find a staffed checkout counter. There was just one lady in front of me but soon I realized that the line was going nowhere. Frustrated I peeked over to see what was taking forever.
An older woman wanted to buy three suitcases. Coupons of all sorts had been pulled out- multiples of $20 off each item and 20% off the entire bill. The checkout lady had a calculator out and was punching and writing numbers. It wasn't rocket science and I really wanted to get out of there. I was on the verge of asking to be served first but then I saw the two of them. Two old ladies trying hard. The suitcases were $155 each so I interjected and told her that the 20% coupon would work better than three $20 off coupons. They did some punching and writing and agreed. The woman then decided that she was going to look around and see if that was the best deal. Before she walked away she turned and thanked me.
At this point - as we do in passing conversation I did the equivalent of saying have a good day. "Hope you enjoy wherever it is the suitcases are going to take you" I said.
"I have to go to Iraq. My son was kidnapped, tortured and killed there" she said. It seemed she had memorized the line. It was not said with sorrow or with tears. It was said in a flat practical tone that I wish I never have to use.
I said I was sorry to hear that as she walked away. Shaken and shocked I went through the return. Walking away from the checkout stand I wanted to find that lady. I wanted to do something. Anything but nothing seemed appropriate or right. All I was thankful for that I had behaved civilly moments back and not let impatience push me into making a blunder that I would have forever regretted.