In what my pastor refers to as “the public and common world,” I’ve come to discover that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, more rare or meaningful than one obvious but often overlooked trait:

Simple human decency.

This afternoon, my wife and I stopped by a Walgreen’s here in Florida to pick up a few things. Aside from the obvious differences from the stores in New York — wider aisles, abundantly stocked shelves, nothing kept under lock and key for fear of shoplifters — I was struck by this astounding fact:

Again and again, people who work there sincerely and enthusiastically tried to be helpful.

While my wife scanned the cosmetics aisle, I browsed the tourist section — kitschy tee shirts, key chains and hats — and was startled by an employee one aisle over who noticed my wandering around and came over to say, “Hi. Can I help you find something?” I told her no, I’m just looking around, and she smiled and said, “I’m here if you need anything.”

That was shocking enough.

But then when we checked out, the woman at the cash register did something amazing.

At the end of our encounter, she thanked us. THANKED US. She told us to have a great day. She smiled. She asked if we found everything okay. I nearly had to sit down.

I don’t think that’s ever happened in New York City, where most stores are understaffed by underpaid and overworked employees who clearly would rather be somewhere else. And in addition to minding the cash register, they have to keep an eye out for shoplifters, run to different sections to unlock plastic cases for people who want to buy dental floss, and open up extra cash registers if the line starts to get long, which it almost always does. (A dozen or more people in line at one cash register is normal. The Muzak of the store is usually punctuated by sighs, groans, grunts and grumbling cries of “Is there a manager here? Is anyone else working here? This is awful” from the customers.)

Here’s the thing: what I experienced in Walgreen’s in Florida shouldn’t be the exception.

Offering to help customers costs nothing. Expressing gratitude and appreciation to the people who patronize your store comes free of charge. A desire to help (or, maybe, to serve) takes nothing from the bottom line — and, in fact, it builds good will and the desire for customers to return.

Thinking more broadly about this, I can’t help but wonder if there are also lessons here about evangelization and growing a community of faith. There’s a lot to be said for a spirit of welcome, of respect, of expressing gratitude and enthusiasm. Not long ago, I preached to a convocation of priests and suggested that one of the great, forgotten qualities of our faith is one that lies at the heart of who we are and what we do: joy.

Do we understand that?  

Yeah, I know, the Church is not a drugstore chain.  But I think we need to consider that telling people, “I’m here if you need anything” and “Thank you for being here” are sentiments we may not express often enough. We shouldn’t take them for granted.  Lives can be changed, if we let people know their lives matter to us. Thinking that way should be common sense Christianity. But I’m not sure that kind of common sense is all that common.

That Walgreens in Florida just might be on to something.