It was a simple return. My daughter had a pair of socks she wanted to take back. As I was going to the mall anyway, I volunteered to do this. After taking care of my own errands, I searched out the appropriate clothing store, offered up the item and receipt, and watched as the amount was placed on my credit card.
Like I said, a simple return.
It was a bit of a shock then, when five or ten minutes later, the manager who had carried out this exchange tapped me on the shoulder. I was at the other end of the facility by this point and couldn’t initially locate her in my mind. “You returned some socks,” she explained. “I accidentally charged them to your card again.”
With these words, I started to realize who she was and what was happening. More, I started to recognize that I had been in a bit of a daze when she approached. Wandering to my next destination, I’d been struck by the people around me. They were all wearing masks, of course. They were all maintaining some measure of distance. And behind them were long rows of storefronts – all featuring signs and hand sanitizer, tape-marked floors and lineups of waiting customers.
Wandering to my next destination, then, I’d become lost in a bit of overwhelm regarding the situation we all find ourselves in right now. It’s a lot, after all. The everyday adjustments we’re making to be well and get by. The adaptations we’re putting in place to keep ourselves sane and healthy as we continue, at least to some extent, to do what we need to do. Never mind the altered jobs and disrupted relationships, the uncertainties and the isolation and everything else.
“You returned some socks…”
As we made our way back to the store together, that manager offered a handful of apologies for what had occured. I expressed appreciation but did not feel these were necessary. It was an honest mistake and I was touched by her willingness to track me down, to rectify this. I was also affected by the way her willingness brought me out of my rising sense of panic. The way her gesture brought me out of a surging emotional tidal wave and returned me to a slightly more immediate connection with my surroundings. It all felt a bit above and beyond the call.
In the Buddhist tradition, there is an ideal known as the bodhisattva. This is a person who, having awakened to their own lives, works in the world for the benefit of others. Often the kind of work associated with bodhisattvas is of what one might call the ‘big deal’ variety. Often the kind of person doing such work is considered in a somewhat saintly manner; Avalokiteshvara, for instance – a very well-known bodhisattva – is venerated even today through statues and images, tales, chants, and practices.
While I am not trying to belittle such work or dismiss such examples of this ideal, I sometimes wonder if bodhisattva activity might also appear in this world in a more low key, ordinary manner. In a manner that does not result in veneration of any notable sort. Acting as the weekend manager of a local clothing store, for instance. Going that little extra distance for a customer who came in simply to return some socks. And, in the process, bringing them out of overwhelm, bringing me back to this.