Sometime back in the summer, I stood in the check-out line at my local grocery store watching the store employee do battle with all of her company provided equipment. The cash register tape jammed — she quickly, if gruffly, popped open the plastic hood and within seconds had untangled it. Then, the scanner began to refuse to read the barcodes on my grocery items. With an indignant huff she ducked beneath the counter, surfacing with a bottle of glass cleaner and a couple of paper towels. A few sprays of ammonia and some moderately applied elbow grease later, the scanner was beeping happily again.
When my total was tallied, I swiped my debit card on the machine provided. Nothing happened. The employee punched a few buttons on her register and told me to try again. I did. This time, something did happened, but not the desired result. Rather than allowing the transaction to proceed, the “point of sale” (POS) machine’s self-induced paralysis now extended to the employee’s register as well. No response to any of her best strategies at working around the impasse. The line was backing up and my fellow customers were getting noisy — after all, we’re Americans and we had been waiting for longer than five minutes!
Finally she said, “OK, I guess it’s time to put that high priced tech support guy’s advice to work.” And with that, she reached reached in her pocket, pulled out a paper clip, straightened said paper clip and inserted the end into a tiny hole on the underside of the POS machine. This was followed by electronic beeps, burps and buzzes as the little machine came back online. Folks behind me in line cheered. The employee took a bow and, for the first time since my check-out process had begun, she grinned.
“Amazing, huh?” she mused, “The company spent hundreds of thousands of dollars a year or so ago on this system. It locks up all the time. Finally the technician for the vendor who sold us the system came out, and gave us all a training on how to use a paper clip to reset these little boxes. Sometimes I wish I had a reset button for my life.” I doubt the store employee is alone in that wish.
We try our best to meet our days with the utmost efficiency. We race from one thing to the next. We are so tightly scheduled that if anything goes even slightly awry (the car doesn’t start, the child has the sniffles or the overnight delivery service doesn’t deliver), the ripple effect will cause our blood pressure to rise and our stomachs to churn. We use our best strategies. We employee our negotiation skills. We create workarounds on the fly. But sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, everything grinds to a halt. We’re stuck. Where’s a reset button when you need it?
A reset button for everyday life! That would be fabulous, wouldn’t it?
There are plenty of self-help gurus willing to share their systems — books, courses, lectures and workshops — for getting one’s life in order. Through the years I’ve done my fair share of looking for the magic paper clip and the elusive reset button. I shudder at how much money I’ve spent through the years looking for answers to whatever personal “issue”I was trying to fix at the time. Many of the solutions the gurus offered seemed to only to complicate matters. Nothing nearly as elegant as the store employee’s paper clip solution!
Since the encounter at the grocery store, I’ve made a couple of trips to Florida to visit my parents. My dad is presently living each day with the reality of stage four liver cancer. On one day during my last visit, he said to me, “It’s amazing how good taking a shower can feel when you feel good enough to take a shower. When you think about it, Gary, running water, indoor plumbing and hot water heaters are pretty remarkable luxuries to have around.”
Now, my dad has always been a bit of a philosopher with a generally optimistic outlook. But his matter-of-fact delivery and the sincerity of his tone caught me off guard. Maybe getting one’s life in order isn’t about fixing everything that’s wrong. Maybe it’s about appreciating what’s right. Maybe getting ourselves reset and re-grounded in this world is as simple as appreciating a splash of warm water against our skin and giving thanks. Some paperclip.