TL;DR: I originally posted about this on my old site, waaaaaay back in 2003. It explains why I try my best to be gentle, giving, and kind to everyone with whom I come in contact. Just in case.
In September 2003 I was working at a record store. This was before the days of iTunes, and downloading any one of millions of available songs at a moment’s notice. If you wanted music, you had to find it on CD. I had a six-and-a-half hour shift, which was normally fairly short, but that day the time was going by excruciatingly slowly. I just wanted work to be over, so naturally I was dragging my feel a little.
A woman about my mother’s age came in, walked by me unnoticed as my co-workers and I stood watching The Two Towers on three TV screens, adding our own dialogue to the silent film. When she came to ask for my help, she came from the back of the store.
She was looking for the Star Wars soundtrack; not the “Phantom Menace” or whatever, but the original one by John Williams. That’s what her little Brother liked. She told me she’d looked in the section and found only the new one. I said I thought we kept John Williams in classical or something, I’d take a look around. Of the two classical sections, I checked only the one in which it was most likely to be. I walked her back up to the cash to check the catalogue, and asked her if she wanted to maybe take a look at some CDs by John Williams that could be ordered, since we apparently had none in stock.
Before the woman could answer, my coworker Marie-France overheard and said that we probably had John Williams in stock, that I had probably just checked the wrong section. She took the woman back to the classical section, and I was glad my responsibility had been passed off.
The woman came back holding a CD in her hand, and I said cheerfully “Oh great, vous l’avez trouvé!”
She told me she was really happy she had found it, that her little Brother loved Star Wars. She told me he had just died, and they had all been asking themselves what to play at his funeral. They were finally able to agree on John Williams, because he was always such a huge fan. She looked straight ahead at the wall and said again how happy she was to have found it, ’cause she had already looked in several other stores with no luck. I looked at her face – at the bloodshot eyes I hadn’t noticed, at the frizzy hair I had – and from her expression I could almost feel her relief at having found her Brother’s CD; feel how monumental this purchase was for her.
She smiled as she held the CD out to me, pointed out that it wasn’t even just Star Wars but all kinds of film scores he used to love like E.T. and Jaws.
She smiled as she accepted the condolences I offered.
As I escorted her out of the store, I asked if she minded telling me how he died. It looked like she was going to cry, going to break down right there in the store, but instead she leaned in really close to me, looked me in the eyes and whispered “Il s’est suicidé.” Then she lowered her eyes to the bag in her hands and repeated slightly more loudly, “Il s’est suicidé.”
I didn’t cry in front of her, or in front of my boss or Marie. But the moment I was alone, I broke down. I couldn’t stop thinking about how close I came to never knowing any of this. But for Marie’s having overheard our conversation, and having taken it upon herself to do a better job than I had, I’d never have known what that poor woman was going through. She would have left the store empty-handed, and more disappointed and distraught than I could ever imagine; and then possibly another store, and another, possibly never finding the CD she desperately needed. And I would have floated on, blissfully unaware of how miserably I had failed this woman in a time of suffering and need.
But I do know. I learned my lesson that day, and I will never forget it: give everyone your absolute, one hundred percent best, because you never know who really deserves it.