The Gift of Gratitude: Corona’s Latest Mutation explores the author’s experience of increased gratitude for cashiers and other essential workers as a direct result of COVID-19.
It seems that no one, not even shoppers from Meijer to Target, are safe from the changes COVID-19 continues to make on the world. Working for Shipt, a grocery delivery company aimed toward helping at risk populations stay home, I have witnessed a byproduct of COVID-19 spread like a contagion among Chicago-land grocery stores. From grocery stores to retail outlets, it seems no shopper is safe from this newest of contagious diseases: gratitude.
Having worked for Target as a Guest Service team member for nearly 4 years, I can state from experience that gratitude was something rarely experienced by the pre-COVID retail worker. I learned quickly that the phrase “the customer is always right” is rarely, if ever, right. The retail world was full of screams, spitters and swearers; more than once, a high and mighty Karen would strut through my line, determined to find herself a manager who would hand her my job. But now, as I drive between the various stores of different cities, I have found the shopping world I had bitterly come to know had changed.
Gone are the days of the silent standers, whose beady eyes watch the cashier with distrust as she scans a stack of frozen pizzas. I’ve seen only a handful of Phone-Call Phils, whose voices ring so loudly at checkout that they cannot hear the cashier ask them “paper or plastic?” As parents decide to leave their children safely at home, an era of peace has fallen over the now pristine displays while they load up their carts with Gerber and gin.
I now hear at least one of the following phrases spoken to a cashier each time I go through checkout– “Thank you for continuing to work” or “I’m so grateful you guys have stayed open” or “Stay safe and thank you so much!” Oftentimes, a single person might say all three in the brief window of their time in line. Men and women of all ages and backgrounds have been taking a moment of their time to acknowledge the importance of someone else’s. The term “essential worker” has rightfully come to apply to those jobs pre-COVID times would label “easy” or “entry-level.” Where would we be, really, without the likes of cashiers and public transportation engineers and waste disposal people?
Change in most forms is easily resisted. It is easier to accept what we know than imagine a world with which we are not familiar. COVID-19 is a catalyst for change and it has left a lasting impression on the way the world works: concerts and festivals can’t be as big as they used to, the global response to fast-spreading disease will (hopefully) become more preemptive and communal, and I doubt that buffets like Golden Corral will ever be the same again. But the pandemic has affected more subtle changes as well: a strengthened connection with friends and family, communities rallying together to keep each other safe, and a deeper appreciation for the man behind the mask. Hopefully, it is the positive changes that COVID-19 will leave behind as its legacy once we’re free to roam the streets once again in a world ruled by another, more effective contagion: gratitude.