Working retail on Thanksgiving night offers the opportunity to take in all sorts of scary, funny, odd, and interesting human behaviors. Sometimes, these occur at the same instant, in the same act. I try to maintain a bit of professional distance, not worry too much about what doesn't effect me, keep my eyes and thoughts on what is immediately in front of me, if for no other reason than it can be overwhelming if one attempts to broaden one's horizon too much.
Last night, the usual 5 am start-time was staggered, with some items now going on sale at midnight. These consisted, for the most part, of household items like towel and sheet sets, some toys and games, some inexpensive movies on Blu-Ray and DVD. Everything was clearly marked, "On Sale At Midnight". Walking through the store as early as 11:30, however, it was clear that there were some for whom this admonition meant nothing. The plastic shrink rap was cut or simply off, and shoppers were digging through the corrugate stands, loading up their shopping carts. My guess is they figured they could load up on this stuff and it would be after midnight by the time they managed to get what they wanted. None of the items on this particular time-schedule would ring up at their lower prices before midnight, but at least these gun-jumpers would be first in line at the cashier soon after midnight, thus beating the long lines.
None of the items on sale at midnight were particularly special. Indeed, were I to receive a set of towels for Christmas I would not exactly be thrilled. I much prefer buying my own, thank you very much. While the movie sales certainly seem like a deal, all these same titles are available for a few bucks more any day of the year.
None of these things were worth fighting over, breaking store rules for shopping, pushing or shoving others out of the way for, or otherwise losing one's sense of proportion. As the folks milled around, however, one could clearly see a glint of not-quite-madness, perhaps grim determination, in the eyes of those most forcefully filling their carts ahead of schedule.
With what is, by and large, throw-away junk.
With Black Friday just about over, as we move from one holiday to the next, we enter the beginning of the Church calendar, with the season of Advent. In Advent, the Church prepares itself for the coming of the Christ child. The one thing we reiterate, over and over again, is the virtue of patience, of waiting. In preparing, part of what we do, is realize that what is coming is not yet here. We operate under the semi-fiction that that for which we are waiting is coming on a yet-to-be-determined schedule. Of course, the feast of Christmas has a set date; yet as we move through Advent, we read and recall all the ways the people of Israel were, indeed, waiting for the Day of the Lord to arrive. We celebrate with the returning exiles recorded in Isaiah 40 and after, yet also know this celebration is mere anticipation of the greater day to come, recorded in chapters 56-65. We remember Jesus' own words, that the final consummation will come "like a thief in the night". We recall St. Paul's insistence that God's time works on a different schedule, which he calls "the fullness of time". All this is to say that all the schedules and calendars we keep are meaningless, arbitrary ways of marking our own fleeting sense of time that only finds its fulfillment in God's fullness.
A bunch of cheap towels, movies that aren't worth watching more than once, toys that will only end up broken on the floor of a closet, to be sold in a garage sale in a couple summers - this stuff isn't worth setting aside patience and decorum, shouldering and elbowing one's way past fellow shoppers in order to cram a shopping cart. We lose any sense of proportion, of rationality, when we act this way. It would be far better if we declared that for which we can no longer wait, that for which we are willing to act like madmen and madwomen is nothing less than God's final settling of affairs, for the establishment of the kingdom of justice and peace. While we are preached patience, it would be nice if, in fact, we exhibited a little more impatience for its arrival.