I had to go to Wal-Mart today.
Well, had is too strong a word. The girls and I suddenly felt crafty (the girls always feel crafty, and I almost never do, so they urged me to strike while the iron was hot) and so after schola practice we went to buy yarn for scarves and whatnot. So: an impulse visit for an impulse buy, and Wal-Mart is the only place that sells yarn up here. My crafty urge cannot survive a twenty-minute drive to the northern outskirts of Columbus, where the mall resides.
I do not visit Wal-Mart often enough to know the traffic patterns, but it seemed awfully clogged for a Friday afternoon. The lines for the registers stretched long, and it became clear that I was in the Wrong Line. People ahead of me kept pulling out and opting to stand at the back of longer lines -- always a bad sign. By default, we ended up next, behind a woman trying to price match a large toy and pay for it by applying for a Wal-Mart credit card. This process had already crashed one register and was now threatening to crash this one.
One man's trash is another man's treasure. De gustibus. I do not understand other people's gift-giving ethic (or "gifting", if we'd like to be on trend with the latest self-congratulatory buzzwords). The Giving Tree at church is filled with requests for toys that I would never buy my own children, and I struggle every year with the issue of what I consider a good tasteful present vs. what others want, especially if that other person is a child in need making a wishlist. I don't understand why this large toy was worth so much trouble to the woman in front of me, but it was. And I got to wondering if the yarn in my cart was really worth the trouble of standing half an hour in line in Wal-Mart. If I'd known we'd have to wait, would our impulse have seemed worth the trouble? That's why online shopping is so easy, and seductive. There's no barrier to entry. Click on Amazon, and you're done, buying treasures that other people may think are trash. Buying treasure that you yourself may think is trash after a while. Want the thing, buy the thing, no effort required.
The lady's problem never did get solved while I was there. The computer rejected various steps in the purchase every time the cashier tried it again, and finally management stepped in. As I left, the lady was still waiting somewhere else, with her big toy balanced precariously in her cart. I hope whoever receives the toy receives it as a type of the Love of which gifts are merely a small and imperfect image. The only real purpose of a gift is to reflect the Love of God, in the small and indistinct way that all our human analogies do. The only purpose of anything is to allow the Love of God to pass through it.
How that works practically is the tedious labor of sainthood. It's all very well to wax eloquent about the wonder of all creation without having to confront the seedy, dull reality of being stuck in line at Wal-Mart at the end of a tiring day near someone who reeks of second-hand smoke. There was a lot of frustration in the store as people with overflowing carts tried to calculate how much longer they were going to be stuck. There's nothing easier than taking out frustration on a cashier. They're captive. They're paid to not say rude stuff. And they're the immediate face of the company. It was hard to tell whether the cashier of my line was working well or not, whether her process kept failing because she didn't know what she was doing or because the computer was being a punk. And it didn't matter. Our life is but a breath, a drop lost in eternity. In the grand scheme of things, in the eye of God, a few minutes of my time spent in a way not entirely interesting to me is not worth striking at another person, whether in cutting words or in rolled eyes or sighs. The person is more valuable than my time. The cashier, the lady with the big obnoxious toy: they matter in the face of eternity. My time does not matter, in the face of eternity. Whether or not Wal-Mart's computer system was off or their algorithm for scheduling for cashiers was faulty doesn't matter in eternity. Jesus didn't die for my time -- indeed, it often seems that he's no respecter of earthly time. He did die for people. Those two ladies are valuable, and my children with me are valuable, and I'm valuable too, too valuable to expend myself in petty wrath. Why spend your wages on what is not food, on what fails to satisfy?