Last week I was leaving a store, Liza was happily sitting in the shopping cart as I pushed it through the exit. Minding my own business, then, “Excuse me, Ma’am,” came a gentleman’s voice to my left. As the sliding doors parted, I stopped and looked at him. “I see you have a princess there,” and he motioned with his eyes toward Liza.
I gave a quick smile to him, “Yes..I do,” I barely choked out without revealing my disdain for the princess craze.
He was a Redbox employee. Older. From what I could deduce from the situation, he was switching out the older Redbox movies for the more current ones. He was holding some small, perfectly square movie posters in his left hand. His right hand was extending one to me, “This is for your little princess.” I looked at the poster as it traveled from his space into mine, and as I took possession of it. Cinderella.
“Oh…” I worked really hard to muster up the right response and reaction: gratitude. “Uh…thaaaaaaanks,” was all I could muster as I stared at the poster depicting this damsel in distress. All I could think was how much I hate Disney princess movies. I hate the message these movies convey to our daughters: women are weak, they need to be saved, specifically by a man. My husband and I have done well keeping all said princess paraphernalia out of our house–even to the point of being considered extreme by friends and family. We’re feminists–Daniel and I, he more than me in many regards! When Jack accidentally uttered, “Quinn’s crying like a little girl!” at the dinner table one night, he all but cried uncle under our 10 minute tag-team diatribe about why that phrase is offensive. And here I was, trying to exit the store, holding in my hands a square piece of really nice poster-board containing within it’s four edges everything I disdain about how our society treats girls. I wanted to hand the poster back to him. I wanted to tell him exactly why I wasn’t going to take this poster with me. Let him know that this poster violates many of my inner most gender principles.
But then I looked back at him.
As I held this thing I couldn’t stand, I looked at him. He smiled at me. He was so happy to give this to my daughter. There was this child-like joy in giving a free gift to a child. What girl wouldn’t want this Cinderella movie poster? He was truly doing a nice thing, a giving thing, a gracious thing. A very gracious gift. My heart melted. Principles or not, it was more important at that moment to love him, my neighbor, than my personal dogma and my urge to tell him what’s what.
I smiled at him; returning his genuine smile of joy with my genuine smile of gratitude. “Thank you,” I said again, this time meaning it. Liza grabbed at the poster, proclaiming her possession of it, Mine! “We love it. It’s so generous of you to give this to us.”
He smiled back and nodded. “You two have a great day!” He persisted in his joyous smile and waved us good-bye as we exited the store.
Often when we talk about loving our neighbors as ourselves we tend to speak in terms of works done for them–I’m sure you’ve heard the oft and maybe over quoted saying, “God doesn’t need your works but your neighbor does.” I hold to this philosophy. But another aspect of loving your neighbor as yourself can also manifest when you see them and enter into their moment, whether it be happy, sad, anger, joy, etc. Sometimes, putting yourself and your personal principles and dogmas aside to make room for this other person is very much loving your neighbor as yourself. Sometimes, putting yourself and your desire to correct and set straight aside is very much loving your neighbor as yourself. Seeing that other person as the human being they are, bearing the same image you do, needing the same saviour you do, is very much loving your neighbor as yourself. When we see our neighbors in such cruciform light, we will find ourselves–by the beautiful and unifying power of the Holy Spirit–acting with more grace towards them even when all we want to do is bring the law.
Liza proudly held that Cinderella poster in the shopping cart all the way to the car and then held it in her car-seat it all the way home. We still have our very special gift.