Relationships: 9+3=11…really? Mindfulness and Patience in Action

I approached the department store service center with my return items – 12 in all. The clerk greeted my arrival with a broad and friendly smile.

“May I help you, ma’am?”

“Sure, I have receipts and a bunch of clothes to return.”

I stacked the items neatly and strategically on the counter to facilitate the credit process. The clerk began the scan. My suspicions about her competence surfaced when she muttered complaints about malfunctioning equipment. After a series of obvious missteps, she printed out the return slip. Before she handed it over to me, I addressed her.

“There are 12 items returned, do you count 12 items scanned?”

I watched her counting.

“Yes, there are 12.”

My suspicions continued to nudge me, while my patience bug bit equally.

“Two heads are better than one. Do you mind if I count, too?”

She handed me the receipt. I did my count—twice.

“There are only 11 items returned on the receipt.”

“What? Really?”

I handed her the receipt. In the amount of time it would’ve taken me to count 200, she responded.

“No, there are 12.”

I reached  and co-held the receipt. With pointed finger tapping the paper, I began to count— 1, 2,….11.

“By golly, you are right. There are only 11 items returned on the slip. Are you sure there are 12 items here to return? Let me count them—-again.”

I quickly muted my flippant ‘you-have-got-to-be-kidding’ auto response.  I smiled, gritted my teeth and tolerated her doubt. Together we meticulously made two piles—-shirts with pants and a dress pile. She counted out loud.

“Okay. There are 1, 2, 3… Nine shirts and pants… And…… three dresses ..sooo…. “

“YES! We have a winner!” My thoughts were quickly crushed as she continued.

“That’s only 11. .. 9+3=11.”  She looked at me and beamed with the thrill of her victory. I did an abrupt double take and stood patiently.

“No…. ” I drawled slowly. “9…+…3 …=… 12.” I tightened my lips so no rude words could escape and nodded affirmatively. Mentally, I scrubbed the entire department floor with a toothbrush before she scrunched up her face and returned her glance to me. Her confusion remained apparent.

“Are you sure?” After another eternity of silence, she agreed. “Oh, yeah. I guess 9+3 is 12.”

“Guess? She… guesses?” My internal dialogue ranted. I imagined I saw her using her fingers.

She fumbled ineptly to identify the 12th item missing from the 11 item credit receipt.  I rapidly took charge. Within 30 seconds, I found the item – a dress – she had neglected to scan and return.  We completed the transaction. She smiled and thanked me for my patience. I squeezed a grin back.

“You’re welcome. Have a nice day.” I exited without creating unpleasantness, or filing a complaint of stupid incompetence. I had lost enough time. Mistakes will be made—-often exceptionally dumb ones.

Later, I told my husband the story. He shook his head.

“If this had happened to me, store personnel would’ve had to peel me off the walls!”

I wondered what stirred my ample burst of patience with the clerk. There is an old adage (from where I do not know) that goes something like; “Patience is a virtue. Catch it if you can. Seldom in a woman, but never in a man.”

While I do not really believe that patience is a gender-based virtue, just sometimes…. Well, anyway, here are three skills which pushed my patience button that day:

  1. I have learned to tolerate mistakes from others.
  2. I made a conscious cognitive shift to choose ‘this’ – patience – over ‘that’ – rudeness and impatience.
  3. I practiced mindfulness and emotional intelligence.

The clerk taught me a lesson that day: if I could have seamless patience with her, I could be patient with my husband, no matter what he did. After all, he can count and knows that 9+3 = 12.

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