A few evenings ago I stopped off at the shabby video store down the street from my house to get a movie for the class I was teaching the next day.
As I pulled into the rental store's dark parking lot I muttered to myself about how I needed to run in and out of there fast so I could go home and get my aching body into bed.
I mindlessly put my car in park, eased slowly out of my car, and was startled fully awake by the ferocious snarls of a bulldog who was trying to squeeze his head out the cracked window of the car next to me to, no doubt, kill me.
My mood grew more foul as I walked into the movie store only to spend who knows how long looking through the unalphabetized dvds for the one I'd come for (what kind of time does this place think I have?!).
I stepped up to the counter, anxious to pay and leave, and was told by the man behind the counter that I had a late fee for my last rental.
"Impossible," I told him . "It was a seven day rental: I checked it out Wednesday and returned it the following Wednesday." I did not smile at him.
"It says you rented it Tuesday and returned it the following Wednesday."
"But I remember checking it out on Wednesday," I said, conveniently forgetting about the memory problems that accompany my health issues. "I picked up the DVD and returned it on my way into work, and I don't go into work on Tuesday." He stuck to his guns.
"It's fine, it doesn't matter," I sighed. I still didn't smile, and this time there was an edge in my voice. A cranky, I'm so over this misunderstanding that is likely not my fault kind of edge.
I paid for the DVD and late fee, and walked around the counter so the clerk could hand it to me. The man shuffled over to me and handed me the DVD.
He couldn't look me in the eyes.
My heart sank and I quickly walked out the door so I could get out of there, like I'd wanted all along.
As I walked to my car and crawled in through the passenger's side to avoid Killer Doggie, I had a vision of Jesus picking an adulteress up out of the dust, looking at her with love when no one else would. I saw him talking to a scorned Samaritan woman—the town ho—and offering her eternal life, and I saw him letting a woman sit at his feet in a culture that only allowed men hang out with rabbis like Jesus.
I saw him rounding up a band of frumpy fishermen from a backwater town and telling them he'd use them to change the world. I saw him joining a reject tax collector for dinner, grabbing the deformed hands of an outcast leper, and pulling small children into his lap when there were important adults waiting to talk to him.
I saw him dignifying humans; making them feel like they were worth pulling up out of the dust; giving them a reason to raise their heads and pull their shoulders back; assuring them he didn't condemn them and it was okay for them to lift their eyes to his steady gaze of compassion.
I wish I had dignified the man who stood behind the movie counter the other night, that I had remembered the great worth of his soul. I wish I had shown him that he is infinitely more important than a possibly "unfair" late fee.
I wish my focus had been outward, not inward. No—I wish my focus had been upward, that I opened myself up to the power of the Great Dignifier as I struggled to respond to my fellow soul with warmth and patience. I wish I could go back and do that night over again.
I haven't seen the movie store clerk since that night, but I've rubbed shoulders with several people—friends, family and strangers—since then, right when my soul was most laden with anxiety, fatigue, and just plain crabbiness. In his kindness, Jesus has given me lots of other opportunities to try to dignify the people around me, the way he did. And I am learning that when Jesus gives me second chances, he crowns me with dignity.