The other evening we went to the supermarket. Every office worker working nearby had rushed to its aisles. Seven p.m. is definitely not the right time to go grocery shopping, if you can avoid it. Neither is the lunch hour. We bought what we needed and headed toward the cash registers where the lines looked like an airport on Christmas eve. As if heading toward the security check, I wove my way till I found a hole to slip in. I turned around and noticed Paul right behind me, just outside the queuing area. I lifted the elastic tape separating us, and invited him to move in with the shopping cart. At this point, a nice tall young black employee in charge of crowd control pointed out to us that we were jumping the queue. For this time, however, he would let this go.

I did not think anymore of it. I did not feel I had jumped the queue. I was in it and had invited Paul to join me. Paul, on the other hand, felt embarrassed for having done it. This was not right. It is only the following morning that he mentioned the incident, expressing then strong feelings which I had neither noticed nor imagined. After a few minutes, he muttered that he had to let ‘this’ go.

Jumping the queue runs in my DNA. It’s basically a sport in my country of origin, France. If it is no longer French, it’s very much deeply rooted in what I happen to be. (The French have gotten better when time comes to receive the Eucharist. Some time back, it was a free for all, as if there were a risk of running out of hosts).

I remember years ago, in my early teens, hopping on an English bus ahead of the queue and heading straight to the back of the bus. An irate older gentleman pointed me out to the conductor and I was asked to get off the bus. I never jumped a bus line in England again.

My mother liked to recall how in Dunkerque, in June of 1940, an English officer, gun in hand, asked a friend of hers to get off his ship because the soldier had rushed onto it without paying attention to the queue. Stranded on the beach, this friend ended up spending four years in a German prisoners’ camp. Still he did not to get killed like so many others.

Yesterday, we returned to the supermarket where throngs were shopping for Labor Day weekend. I headed for the lines, with the shopping cart, while Paul was running for something we had forgotten. No queue jumped this time.

I tend to jump queues without noticing it. If at all possible, it feels normal to make my way toward the head of the line… I am grateful that Paul shared his embarrassment. I will be more careful.

This led me to reflect on those reflexes we all have. I jump queues; a black youngster starts running away when a policeman calls him; a trader cannot resist the rush of the deal; a mother snaps angrily at her child because she’s scared. We all have reactions which are not helpful, but which at some other time came in handy and has become way of being.

Anything specific comes to your mind?

Art: Stephen Escher

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