Mortification at its best (or worst)

So there I was circling the mall the other night, getting down to some early Christmas shopping. Hubby and I had agreed to split up and go our separate ways as I wanted to get some presents for my mom and didn’t want to drag him through women’s stores. (I’m such a kind wife! But I digress…)

I found myself in front of Coles, the bookstore, and decided to take a peek. After browsing the aisles and finding a book to buy, I went up to the cashier to get it rung through. A woman was standing behind the till waiting to greet me.

I should stop here to interject that I’ve always considered myself to be an accepting person and one who seeks out diversity in life. I have a background in international education and have taken intercultural studies in school. I have lived in various parts of Canada and also the world. I love eating the food of other cultures. I have taken training to learn how to become more inclusive to bisexual and transsexual persons at work, and I have helped organize training for coworkers on supporting deaf clients. Blah, blah, blah. All I can say is, my diversity ‘savvy’ went out the window that night.

The cashier was a woman about my age. When I walked up to the till the first thing she said to me was, “And how will you be paying for this?” Well, it took me off guard. Usually people start with a “Hi, how are you?” or something to that effect. When this is the question, I’ve been trained by shopping at hundreds of stores in my lifetime to answer something like, “Fine, how are you?” The expected response for an expected question. Well I don’t know, maybe it was late or maybe I was just dreaming about being home in my warm bed, but I actually had to start thinking about the answer I would give to that question. How would I be paying for this? Where is my money? Should I pay debit or credit? I found myself momentarily staring down at the book I had put on the counter while I considered this request.

As I looked up to answer her (“Debit please”), I suddenly realized that where I had been staring was where her hand should have been. That is to say, that she had no hand at the end of her left arm. The cashier was an amputee. I suddenly realized that she probably thought in my hesitation to answer her question that I had been stunned into not answering by staring at her amputation. Her look soured. My thoughts raced. Well of course it doesn’t matter that she has no hand. No big deal. Now she hates me. I’m such an idiot. We continued through the transaction. She punched in numbers and then it came time for me to swipe through my debit card.

Well let’s just say that I was carrying things. I had done some previous shopping that night and was lugging some bags around. So what do I say as I reach for the hand-held debit machine thing-y? What do I say to the amputee cashier? To the woman who is working a hands-on job with just one hand?

“Oh, I don’t have enough hands,” I said to myself – out loud – as I struggled to balance my bag, my wallet, and my purse, all in my two hands. I couldn’t catch myself in time. What did I just say? Take foot. Insert in mouth. Just leave it there until you get out of the store, Brilliant One.

We finished the transaction. The woman gathered up my purchase for me, deftly slipping her left arm through the loop of the bag and holding it out to me. I took it from her with a smile – determined to appear like a normal human being – and got the heck out of the store.

I thought back on the scene later, cringing. I recounted the story to my husband, who laughed at my sheer helplessness at what came out of my mouth in that moment. Well, what can I say? I’m human. So is she. I’m sure she understood. But I think I’ve still got a lot to learn.

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