As someone who works in the (n)ever-exciting, fast-paced realm of retail, I answer numerous customer questions every shift. These questions are often easy to answer, but occasionally, you get an adverse reaction. So, if a day is already going awry, I tend to regard approaching customers with a sense of dread looming over me.
During a stressful late shift last week, a little girl and her grandmother stopped me near the entrance of the store while I was the manager on duty. My specialties are more attuned to menswear, so I feared they would be asking me something about children’s clothing. But instead, the grandmother asked me if we had any scarves – not winter scarves, and preferably inexpensive, because the little girl needed if for a class presentation. She was going to be dressing up as someone she finds inspiring – her hero.
And the little girl, as if on cure, looked at me and said, “I’m dressing up like Malala Yousafzai.”
And I froze for a second. Because, really… that’s not the answer I was expecting. A little girl, with blue eyes and a blonde ponytail, living in a fairly conservative area, proudly declaring that her hero is Malala, and she needed the scarf to wear over her head. But as shocked as I was, once I took the time to absorb her words, one emotion overrode it.
As chaotic as the world seems these days – a sort of discord and tension that can even be felt by children – this little girl made me hopeful that the next generation isn’t doomed to be lost. In a world where our leaders often fail to condemn hatred (and, in some cases, seem to condone it), and children can be easily swayed, hearing that little girl, over a decade younger than me, proclaim her admiration for Malala was inspiring. I did a similar project in sixth grade and I dressed up as Paul Revere, so this girl wiped the floor with me.
So I happily showed them our scarves, and when I passed them later on trying out a lovely blue floral one, I made sure to tell her that she looked great, and I hoped her presentation would go well. But though she thanked me for the compliment, I should have thanked her for showing me that there is hope to be found in the younger generation.