When you want to find pearls, you need to be patient and be willing to go deep. They aren’t on the surface, they are in the muck at the bottom of the ocean, created in response to an irritation, a grain of sand or a parasite.
And sometimes they are right in front of you – but you have to know how to see them.
There is a cashier in my grocery store named Pearl. Pearls are beautiful. She is not. You could easily call her ugly. She is rather unattractive, middle aged with buck teeth. Uneducated and just a little too loud.
Do you pay attention to the cashier at your grocery store? I assume that most people don’t. They are just one more station in the midst of errands and tasks that need to be completed… One of the invisible people that help us through our day.
The upcoming holiday made me think of a tiny interaction I witnessed in the store. It was before a different holiday (Passover). I suppose it was the similar atmosphere that brought the incident to mind. Or possibly it’s the reflective nature of Rosh Hashana that had me pondering the amount of power each of us has to do good in the world.
It was a few days before the Passover holiday and the grocery store was packed.
Looking for the fastest check-out line, I picked Pearl. She works fast.
Pearl was in the midst of a conversation with an elderly Russian man in front of me in line. She talks to everyone. She was explaining that he was entitled to choose a discounted product from a special section in the store. He thanked her but said that he would pass on the discount.
“Why?” she asked. She wanted him to benefit from the offer. It wasn’t a significant discount, nothing that would make a big difference on his bill but she wanted him to have it.
He said that his legs don’t work well, that it would take him a long time to walk to the area dedicated to discounts. It would hold up the line and annoy everyone.
Before he completed his thought Pearl responded: “I’ll go instead of you! What do you want?”
The man replied: “No never mind, don’t worry about the discount.”
He didn’t want to be given personal, unusual service because his body was weak.
Somehow Pearl instinctively knew what he wanted – gefilte fish for the upcoming holiday. In an instant she figured out how to solve the problem. The people behind me were buying gefilte fish. After quickly verifying with the man that it was ok Pearl swiped through the gefilte fish that the couple behind me were buying. The old man then had the fish on his bill. He could pay, pack his groceries and then go get his own fish – at his own pace.
In an instant Pearl enabled the man to save the money the discount entitled him to receive, without holding up the other customers AND preserve his dignity.
All this took place so swiftly that the couple behind me was not sure exactly what had happened. They were immigrants from America and their Hebrew was not very good. Seeing their confusion, I explained what Pearl had done. The husband, choked up, said: “That is the good of Israel, the heart”.
Translating, I explained to Pearl that they were moved by her kindness. At first she wasn’t sure what we were talking about. She’s used to herself and that is just the way she is. All the time.
Israel has taught me to look at the heart of matters big and small. It is always the heart that counts. Content of character – not color, gender, religion, status – is what defines the quality of a person. We can’t control what happens to us in life but we can control our reactions to our experiences. These are the choices that define what kind of person we become.
Often it is the people of Israel who teach me the most powerful lessons. The cashier at my grocery store is like many others in this country – the exterior may be tough, even coarse but that is just the outer shell. Inside is a true Pearl.