“You don’t realize how much you miss human interaction until it is removed from your life.”—Alessandra Torre, American novelist.
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Sunday morning sermons touch our hearts in unique ways. Some in a manner that the minister delivering the message probably would never guess.
“The little lady walked into the post office and stood in the long line of customers patiently waiting to purchase stamps at the window,” Tim Perkins began his message last Sunday at the Center Church of Christ. He continued the story by relating how the postal clerk who watched the elderly patron repeat this behavior over time decided to offer some helpful advice. “You do know you can purchase your stamps at the machine in the lobby and not have to stand in line, don’t you?”
“Yes,” the lady replied as she paid for the stamps. “But the machine doesn’t tell me hello and ask about my arthritis.”
The message in Sunday’s lesson that kindness is the spontaneous response of a loving heart was not overlooked by me. Nor was the thought that kindness is something we all seek and should likewise give in return.
But the message resonated with me as I thought about how we have let automated and online business, texting, and other forms of convenience and communication replace personal interaction. While they are all good tools, we’ve allowed them to take the place of our facial expressions, the tone of our voice, the sound of our laughter, even the touch of a handshake.
For all of their advantages, automation and digital technology will never replace the feeling the little lady in the post office enjoyed by doing business with another human being. Sort of like one of my favorite memories about Center businessman Vance Payne at Payne and Payne Hardware.
“What ‘cha looking for,” delivered with a smile, was the greeting customers typically heard from Vance when entering the “big red hardware store on the corner on the square.”
“Need a rubber mat ‘bout three-feet wide,” was my response that summer day some years ago.
‘Wha ‘cha gonna do with it,” Vance inquired. The question was standard fare, and I regarded it as being friendly and inquisitive. However, regular customers soon learned that the quizzing was based on his desire to find the best solution for the customer’s need.
“Top of my workbench,” I explained.
“Follow me,” Vance replied as he turned and headed for the back door. Crossing Shelbyville Street, I followed him to a building that once occupied what is currently the First Baptist Church parking lot. Rummaging around for few minutes, he produced a dusty roll of rubber material.
“Perfect,” I told him. “How much for about six feet?”
“Five dollars,” he said.
Reconsidering my need based on this unexpected bargain price, I updated my quantity. “How much for 15 feet.”
“Five dollars,” he said again.
The silence was deafening while I did the math and racked my brain for an understanding of his business logic. So, I floated another quantity. “I think I’ll buy 20 feet, just to be sure I have enough.”
“Five dollars,” Vance said, his ever-present smile growing larger.
Deciding I was all in on this one, I teased him, “So what if I want the whole roll.?’
“Well then, I guess I would be silly not to buy the whole roll,” I laughed. “But why price the whole roll the same as six feet?”
“Because I need to get rid of it,” Vance said.
This was not my first negotiation with Vance Payne. I already knew that every question was drawing me closer to a punch line. But I had to ask.
“So, why didn’t you just price me the roll for five dollars to start with,” I laughed.
“You said you needed six feet,” he retorted, laughing out loud. “And the customer is always right.”
Handing him a five delivered with a smile and a handshake, I headed off with my prized purchase. “A pleasure doing business with you, my friend,” I waved.
“Come back to see us,” Vance replied.
Granted, automated machine purchases and “interweb” online shopping have their place. But they can’t deliver the therapeutic value of a smile-to-smile purchase or a sincere inquiry about someone’s arthritis delivered with kindness in our hearts.
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