I Believe in Acquaintances

Brian - Wyoming, Michigan
Entered on November 4, 2008

I Believe in Acquaintances.

She half-heartily smiles and quietly murmurs, “Hello, how are you today?” Not waiting for an answer, she begins shuffling our groceries across the scanner. The half-smile shifts to a frown as she struggles to find the barcode on a bag of frozen peas. All day, every day, she slides the same products across the same scanner in the same manner. This store doesn’t have bag boys anymore to pack the groceries for her, so she’s stuck fumbling with paper bags as she rings up each item. She doesn’t miss the help as much as she misses having someone else there she knows.

My wife Rebecca startles her, smiling and saying, “How much longer do you have to work Cindy?” Instantly Cindy’s demeanor changes. My wife doesn’t know Cindy; she simply read the name on her Meijer name tag. Initially, she is startled.

Soon her surprise turns to a smile, and she replies, “I gotta work ‘til ten ‘cause one of the guys that normally does nights isn’t feeling great.” Although thankful for the additional pay, Cindy is worried because she has a great deal of homework to complete for tomorrow and doesn’t know if she’ll be awake enough to finish it. She’s taking nursing at the local university and hopes to someday work in labor and delivery, but right now she’s just trying to keep her grades up while working enough to pay for her undergrad.

Cindy is suddenly an acquaintance. Rebecca just met her. Rebecca isn’t afraid to meet anyone; it’s part of her family way. When we go to the store, she doesn’t only greet the cashier, she makes a point of finding out their name–usually by reading their name tag—and calling them by it. At first, it embarrassed me a bit. I’m not sure why, but I just figured people wanted to be left alone. I’m pretty sure I was wrong.

Rebecca’s outgoing nature goes beyond grocery store checkout lines. We’ll be with her family, and her dad or mom will go around and introduce themselves to anyone and everyone. I used to think it was weird. I thought people were annoyed by them. I was sometimes embarrassed as they took down names and addresses of people they’d probably never see again. Then, sometime over the last few years, I recognized something: it’s beautiful.

Rarely do people mind. They immediately get happier, and their entire day seems to brighten. They ask for phone numbers and volunteer services. Waiters end up telling us what not to order on the menu and strangers give us coupons at the grocery store. My in-laws don’t do it because it’s lucrative; they do it because it’s a part of their personality. All the same, it’s a win-win proposition.

I’ve found myself meeting people more because of them. It’s contagious. I used to walk by a neighbor that always drank beer and watched football in his garage. One day I introduced myself, and now we watch football together most Sundays. Even my dog benefits. Everyday on our walk, he visits with Rufus the German Shepherd, Cody the Black Lab, and Duffer and Gidget the Basset Hounds while I talk to the owners I used to pass by silently. Walks aren’t a chore anymore.

Neither is grocery shopping. As Cindy speaks, Rebecca listens intently, smiles and encourages her. They talk a bit about nursing and the opportunities available. In seemingly less time than usual, the groceries are all in bags and Rebecca is wishing Cindy well. We start to head towards the door, and suddenly I realize how much I love my wife. I love her because she didn’t choose to greet Cindy; it was a natural thing for her to do. The next time we go to the store, she’ll probably remember Cindy and ask her how school is going. Because of her, I’ve begun to believe in greeting others. I believe in introducing myself. Hi, my name is Brian Karsten, and I believe in acquaintances.