The other day in Sidney at the checkout counter at the Fairway supermarket, the middle-aged man zapping our barcodes and bagging our groceries welcomed us with a beaming smile.
“Howdy folks,” he said. “Hope you’re having a lovely day today.”
We smiled back. Yes, we were having a lovely day. And we’d brought along our own bags.
“That’s fantastic,” he said, his face florid and friendly. “I love that straw basket you have. Looks very special.”
He chatted and zapped and put the groceries in our bags and, before we left, said, “Now you folks have an absolutely fantastic day out there in the sunshine.”
My wife and I walked out of the store beaming. “Wow,” I said, “I feel like I’ve just had a cameo in a Norman Rockwell painting.”
Norman Rockwell, for those who don’t know, depicted America on the front of the Saturday Evening Post during and after the Second World War. His paintings — especially those portraying Thanksgiving or Christmas, are classics, many of them uplifting. And they showed us how we could be better versions of ourselves.
We don’t see Norman Rockwell paintings so much these days, and rarely better versions of ourselves.
We seem to be living in an age of anxiety. On edge. Without optimism. The world is an uncertain place. It’s difficult to be hopeful.
A friend told me she had been at the dentist with a cracked tooth. She thinks she cracked it grinding her teeth at night. Tense. Worried.
Her dentist told her she might be right. He said he normally treated three or so such teeth-grinding incidents a month. Now he was treating four or five times that number.
The world is grinding its teeth.
Another friend told me how his daughter, in her late teens now, and many of her friends were all going through mental health challenges. Some were in counselling. Some were finding it hard to cope. It’s hard to have hope when you’re not sure what tomorrow will bring.
Which is why I found the happy optimism of the checkout clerk so uplifting. I haven’t seen it a lot lately. Clerks are mostly behind plexiglass these days. We seem to be perfunctory, inward-looking, less open and friendly.
Our age of anxiety seems to be spawning more division than unity. Too many are hunkering down with our own frustrations and worries, rather than sharing them, helping one another. Yes, we’ve all had enough. And just when we think this whole COVID thing is almost over, we hear of more new waves, more increased infection rates, too many still refusing to get vaccinated and help out their fellow citizens.
Even Bonnie Henry’s be calm, be safe, be kind mantra is getting lost in the negative noise.
Yet, right now more than ever, we need to keep pulling together and look out for one another. We need to be better — for each other.
Maybe not so much Norman Rockwell, more Ted Lasso.
Ted Lasso, for those who don’t subscribe to Apple TV+, is a comedy drama about a small-town American football coach who is hired to run a failing English Premier League soccer team.
Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis, is a gee-willikers, upbeat, optimistic coach who gets the best out of his team by being supportive, empathetic and, above all, positive.
I love the show. So do a lot of other people. Last week it garnered awards for the best comedy series at the Emmys as well as a nod for Sudeikis, who plays the role perfectly.
Ted Lasso has his own challenges. His wife is divorcing him, his young son is back in the United States, his team is losing and the fans keep chanting “Wanker” from the terraces, which Lasso quite appreciates until he’s told that the word isn’t exactly complimentary.
Season one of the series had Lasso as an unrelentingly positive force, and calling someone a Ted Lasso became an insult. Smiling and happy when everything about you is falling apart.
Season two has become more introspective, probably less funny, and Lasso himself is facing his own mental health challenges. At first he doesn’t confront them, but increasingly he admits that even the eternal optimist has his doubts. Yet, still he looks for that brighter side, rather than lfeeling sorry for himself all the time.
I like the show all the more for that. But instead of becoming a downer of a show, it has become a program where everyone does their best for each other — helping rather than hindering or questioning.
So my happy, upbeat checkout clerk made my day. Made it just that much better. And it only took a moment.
We could all learn from him.
Ian Haysom is consulting editor for CHEK Media