Like everyone else I am listening to the news about failing banks and a crumbling financial market and hoping my meager earnings and savings will suffice.  I have never been particularly savvy when it comes to financial wheeling and dealing, so I have had to listen hard to understand what is really at stake here.  I’m not sure I’ll ever understand all the details.  I’ve been content on the rare occasions when I get my checkbook to balance!  I watched a news program recently and determined to research every word and concept I did not understand.  One word and its meaning lodged in my brain and shifted my thinking about economies.  The word was “commodity” — defined in the dictionary as “a useful thing.”  Certainly in this financial crisis we are debating and wondering what will be useful — hoping that a government bailout or the initiative of private enterprise will rescue our economy and lead us to change.

My clearer understanding of economy (defined as “the resources of a community”) and necessary commodities came while standing in line at Einstein’s Bagels.  I make a daily contribution to the resources of my community by stopping in at Einstein’s every morning.  One morning last week the line for bagels was unusually long.  At first I couldn’t see the cause of the delay, but as I inched forward I saw the problem and began to hear about it from my fellow bagel buyers.  There was a new employee at the cash register.  She was a middle-aged woman who couldn’t find the right keys to ring up orders, kept mixing up everyone’s orders, and wasted even more time by apologizing to every customer about her incompetence. 

The line became restless while our grumbling grew louder.  We all began looking at our watches, sighing, and wondering outloud if this was the best this bagel shop could do.  After looking at my watch twice, pulling out my Blackberry to check for messages, and sighing loudly, I turned to the woman behind me and said in exasperation, “I’m ready to get behind the counter and ring up my own order!”  We all clearly believed that we were the important resources in our community, that our precious time was being wasted, and that the woman behind the counter was a disposable commodity.

A man two people ahead of me finally made it to the counter.  He was dressed in a dark suit with a starched white shirt and polished shoes.  He certainly needed to be someplace important so that he could do something important that would be useful.  As the harried cashier began to apologize for being new and not able to find the key on the cash register for his sesame seed bagel, he stopped her:  “Don’t worry about it,” he began with a warmth in his voice that froze everyone else standing in line.  “You are doing a great job for your first day.  It won’t hurt me to take a few minutes to breathe — you’re actually doing me a favor.  Thank you!”

The new cashier relaxed and found the right key to ring up the order.  I dropped my phone in my purse and let out a deep breath myself.  In fact, everyone in line seemed to relax.  A few people looked away or at the floor, but I couldn’t stop staring at this business man who offered a scarce commodity in our pinched economy — kindness.  I left Einstein’s barely thinking about my power bagel with light cream cheese.  I wasn’t in a hurry to get into the car and turn on the radio to hear if Congress had agreed on an economic bailout.  I found myself praying, “God, I want to be kind today.”  I suspect everyone in the long line left with similar ponderings.  For a few moments kindness led us all to change.  Perhaps that is the most useful thing we need to add to the resources of our community.  No matter what shortages we face in the days ahead we all have access to kindness, and time and other resources are never wasted when we are kind.  No matter what changes we all need to make, kindness is always certain to lead the way to real change.

“In kindness, [God] takes us by the hand and leads us into a radical life change” (Romans 2:4).