From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

Climbing the Stairway to Heaven

No one can deal with the hearts of men unless he has the sympathy which is given by love.

Henry Ward Beecher

Throughout my career in sales, I’ve wondered about difficult customers. What makes them so mean? How can they be so unkind? How can a perfectly rational person suddenly lose all sense of human decency?

One day, I had an insight into their thinking. It happened while visiting my husband’s music store. He was working with a customer and we were short-handed. So I did what every good wife would do: I tried to wait on customers.

“I’m looking for music,” said a gnarled man, a soiled John Deere cap pulled down tightly over his thinning gray hair. “The name of the song is . . .” and he uncrumpled a grimy sheet of mimeographed paper from his jeans pocket, “‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Do you have it?”

I stepped to the wall displays of sheet music and scanned for the name. On a good day, the music filled slots in alphabetical order. On this day, the alphabet skipped around. I searched for several minutes, conscious of his growing restlessness.

“No, I’m sorry but it doesn’t look like it’s here.”

His back arched and his watery blue eyes narrowed. Almost imperceptibly, his wife touched his sleeve as if to draw him back. His narrow mouth twisted in anger.

“Well, ain’t that just grand. You call yourself a music store? What kind of a store doesn’t have music like that? All the kids know that song!” he spluttered.

“Yes, but we don’t carry every piece of music ever . . .”

“Oh, easy for you! Easy to give excuses!” Now his wife was pawing at his sleeve, murmuring, trying to calm him the way a groom talks to a horse gone wild.

He leaned in to me, pointing a knotty finger at my face. “I guess you wouldn’t understand, would you? You don’t care about my boy dying! About him smashing up his Camaro into that old tree. About them playing his favorite song at his funeral, and he’s dead! He’s gone! Only 18 and he’s gone!”

The paper he waved at me came into focus. It was the program for a memorial service.

“I guess you wouldn’t understand,” he mumbled. He bent his head. His wife put her arm around him and stood quietly by his side.

“I can’t understand your loss,” I said quietly, “but we buried my four-year-old nephew last month, and I know how bad that hurts.”

He looked up at me. The anger slid from his face, and he sighed. “It’s a shame, ain’t it? A dirty shame.” We stood in silence for a long moment. Then he fished around in his back pocket and pulled out a worn billfold. “Would you like to see a picture of our boy?”

Joanna Slan

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