I made it almost the whole way through. Christmas was in sight and I'd managed to keep my spirits genial and bright throughout the season, no matter how much repetitive Christmas music I heard on the radio, no matter how disgruntled my family became, no matter how much extra work I was doing. I was surprisingly relaxed and of good cheer.
Then I went to The Whole Foods.
Just by itself, that isn't a bad thing. I've been shopping at my local store since it opened and I've been there around the holidays, so I pretty much know what to expect: a crowd of holier-than-thou entitled patrons short on patience and long on sharing their opinions. What I didn't expect was the employees at the bakery counter, and their attitude. They ignored me first, then walked away from me to complain amongst themselves about how my daughter had put her hand on the counter, then came back to the counter and treated me as if I were holding them up from more important things.
I've worked retail Christmases in the wine trade and the book trade and I never, ever, treated a customer the way those two men treated me. I know how bad it can be on the other side of the cash register but I also know that no matter what, you never lose your cool with a customer and the customer is always right. Every other store employee was courteous and helpful. Add to that the fact that the bakers' behavior was nonsensical: if they wanted us gone so badly, then ignoring us wasn't going to make that happen; my need for bread wasn't going to evaporate just because these guys were inconvenienced.
I tried to make sense of this experience on the way home through the cluster-bomb of holiday traffic. What, exactly, was their problem? Had I somehow done something to bring on this reaction? Was there a way to rationalize this all with the holiday season? Where exactly, does it fit, with the message of Christmas?
For me, the over-riding through-line of religion is: don't make someone else's life worse for having met you. So, these guys clearly weren't with my program. Rather, they were of the bitter retail school where they're too good to be doing their job, they're meant for better things, and the customer is always an inconvenience. As I drifted to the checkout line and out into the night, I wondered how out of touch that attitude is in a country with unemployment at the current rates.
The next day, I realized something, though. I had restrained myself at the store. I hadn't stomped off to demand to see the manager and demanded apologies or tried to somehow dump back on the bakery guys. Although they had shown me none of the holiday message, my Christmas spirit was actually intact.
Good luck keeping your balance through the season.