It was a wonderful day of discovery, the day I discovered this poem as a child. (I’m reciting it from memory, so I hope the words are correct aside from my choice to substitute “she” for “he”.
“I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me
And what can be the use of [her] is more than I can see
[She] is very, very, like me, from my toes up to my head
And I see [her] jump before me when I jump into my bed.”
- Robert Louis Stevenson.
I always liked this poem because it celebrates the intangible part of a child. So comforting to think that my shadow could even be endowed with such importance by stressing it’s unimportance and giving it properties so appealing to a child’s sense of fun.
(Now this is where you need to back out of here and go elsewhere cause the rest of this is just a miserable whine).
Still reading? Oh well, that's your choice.
So now what I want to tell you about is yesterday’s shopping trip.
When I got to town I went to a shop, selected my purchases, and took them to the counter. There were two clerks at two separate tills. Clerk I had a customer; Clerk II had none. Clerk II’s till light was on, but she was busy as could be. She was busy fluffing papers. So I lined up behind the customer at Clerk I. But the transaction would not complete, so after several patient moments of waiting, I moved my stuff to the other till. And there I waited and waited.
Now you know when you watch someone shuffling papers whether they are counting, doing math, recording, even alphabetizing. And when this is the case, that person deserves the patience and respect to complete that task. But Clerk II was doing none of these. She was, as I said, fluffing papers and frequently looking out the window. Eventually she looked up. “Oh,” she said, “could you go to the other till?”
I glanced at her till light and then obediently lined up once again behind the customer at the other till. Clerk I was still fighting with the transaction. She finally managed to cancel her second attempt and with the third, ding-ding, another error message. So I waited and waited while Clerk I continued to fight with her till and Clerk II continued to look out the window and fluff paper.
Finally I moved back to Clerk II and put my purchases down on her counter. “I can’t wait any longer,” I said, and turned to leave. Clerk II responded amazingly fast. “Oh no, oh no, don’t do that. I’ll get that stuff for you right now.”
But then, instead of ringing up my few items, Clerk II disappeared behind the counter and began re-arranging boxes. “I’ll be right with you,” she said, while popping her head up from behind the shelf.
I waited and waited. And after ten minutes or more, with Clerk II still behind the counter re-arranging boxes, I finally said, “I am leaving,” as I turned and headed for the door. That’s when she dashed out from behind her counter and hurried after me yelling, “Lady, come back, come back. Please come back.”
As the door was closing behind me, I turned to her and said, “No point, my dear. You are much too busy today.” And so I left.
Leaving didn’t make me happy. Staying and waiting longer would not have made me happy. Now if clerks are busy with customer line-ups I don’t mind waiting as long as it takes. But this was not the case.
And then I got that ‘chip on the shoulder’ mentality that so many minorities have. You know, thinking that because you are ‘different’ from the rest of the line-up that the push you just got was not accidental or coincidental, it was bloody on purpose. And the reason you were overcharged was not because of an honest error but because, as a native, people assume you don’t have the intellect to notice. These are not the best examples but I think they adequately reveal what I mean.
So now I’m thinking, that I have differences from the mainstream that are starting to show. Because of my gray hair, slow amble, and other’s assumption that I am retired and have all the time in the world to make my purchases, service need not be a priority. And so in that moment, a chip settled down on my shoulder and I became convinced that elder-bias was involved. As the situation unfolded Clerk II’s behavior was far too deliberate to believe that this was the standard of service to all customers.
So now I’m heading home without vacuum bags and a couple of other things I needed and again I’m reflecting on my status in society and thinking about a poem that was the sweetest, loveliest thing I had ever read, when I was a child. But now it suddenly seems all wrong. It really needs some editing to reflect today’s realities. And so this is my new recital.
My shadow has a ‘being’ that goes into town with it
It drags along its ‘being’ that is slow and hardly fit
There is no need to hustle with a shadow in your day
Shadowed-beings are no matter. They just get in the way.
Today was not exactly a celebration of my physical shadow or the seemingly intangible being that accompanies it.