I don’t like the current pandemic as much as anyone else.  It endangers my life and curtails my activities. My wife and I work on the front lines in a hospital and at a grocery store, respectively. It’s been interesting to see my understanding and concern about the pandemic evolve.

I was slow to comprehend that working at a grocery store was working at an essential business on the front line. I started sanitizing my hands lots and lots of times. Eventually, I began wearing a mask. No, I don’t like wearing the mask. It doesn’t stay in place; it’s hot; it muffles my voice; it conceals my smiles. On the other hand, I’m convinced that it provides protection in social settings for me and others if we also sanitize and physically distance from one another.

Walton County, Florida, where I live, has seen a jump in cases of COVID from around a hundred a few weeks ago to 1066 cases as of July 27. Less than ten percent of cases are non-resident people. There have been twelve deaths. Publix cut back on its hours and implemented sanitizing procedures long ago. It provided masks to its workers if they wanted to wear them. It has since required masks for employees unless there is a medical reason for not wearing one. As of July 21 customers are required to wear masks.

Before July 21 many residents complained about other people not wearing masks in the store. When the beaches and short term rentals re-opened, locals complained that the tourists would bring the virus with them and expressed fear that they would spread the virus. I’ve heard residents and non-residents poo-poo mask wearing.  Customer service department personnel are required to ask customers to stand behind the Plexiglas barrier when they are checking out. Some customers readily comply while others give pushback in various forms. I’ve been involved in three incidents with customers who took issue with policy.

I’ve observed tempers flare in seconds. Most policies, if not all of them, are imperfect. For instance, our sanitizing procedures were less important than keeping the checkout lines to three or less customers.  One customer in the checkout lane next to the one I was cashiering at pointed out the inconsistency of our policy because the customer was about two foot away from my back.

Our practice of physical distancing can include asking a customer to wait to insert their credit card in the card machine until the bagging of their groceries is completed. This protects the bagger. One customer was very upset when I asked her to wait. Another customer told me it was un-American and unpatriotic to require her to stand behind the Plexiglas while her groceries were being bagged.  I was disturbed by her remark, but later became amused. I would like to ask her if she has children and, if she does, has she ever restricted their movement. I served this customer again a couple days later and she complained that we weren’t wearing gloves and other customers weren’t wearing masks.  She was criticizing us for things that weren’t required then. Gloves have never been required in the store and masks weren’t required when she made her critique. They are now, but not because of her remarks.

The pandemic has complicated grocery shopping. It dawned on me a couple weeks ago that we are creating a new shopping culture. Change can be very unpleasant in a grocery store. We have been so used to coming and going without all kinds of rules or directional signs. There’s been a lot of pushback, complaining, anger and unhappiness. Here are some things I’ve learned during this culture shift:

I resent being told what I must or can’t do.
I have a difficult time implementing policies I didn’t help create or don’t like.
I am stronger with implementing the policy with the support of other team members.
I am not responsible for justifying a new policy to customers or to argue with them about it. I can stop serving them until they comply, ask them to bag their groceries or escalate the matter to management.
I can be quickly drawn into a team member’s conflict with a customer in another checkout lane if I don’t stay focused on my job.

Two principles are percolating in my mind and heart about creating the new shopping culture in the pandemic. First, we can pray and take precautions. It states in the Bible, “But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” (Nehemiah 4:9)  Nehemiah and his fellow Jews weren’t troubled by a pandemic. They were concerned about the threat of their enemies attacking while they were rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. They chose to pray and set up guards. We can follow their example by praying AND guarding one another by wearing masks, sanitizing our hands frequently and observing physical distancing with people. Prayer and precautions DO work. The wall was completed in fifty-two days (Nehemiah 6:15). We can protect ourselves from the virus with prayer AND vigilance.

Second, if we claim to be loving people, our behaviors are ones that don’t harm our neighbors. “Love does no harm to its neighbor.” (Romans 13:10) The virus is real though invisible to the naked eye. It is debilitating. It is deadly, but it can be thwarted if we commit to loving one another by implementing the precautions that we presently know keep harm to a minimum. Let’s commit to protecting our neighbors and our own lives from harm while we create a new culture in shopping in the pandemic.

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