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She was one tough customer. Ignoring hundreds of people clamoring for my attention during the busiest sale of the year, she insisted on finding a long-sleeved, pink satin blouse with a high collar. It was not in season. It was not in style. But she would not be swayed. I pleaded with her to try this collared blouse or that pink sweater, but nothing would satisfy her. Finally, in desperation, I asked her, “Ma’am! Why do you need this blouse?”

“It’s to bury my mother,” she replied.

Oh. I see.

She taught me a lesson I’ve never forgotten: my most difficult customer was probably having a difficult day before they ever walked into my store. Whatever has made them irate, irrational, insistent or just plain ugly is rarely about me, it’s always about them. There’s always a back-story, its chapters written long before our climactic encounter.

Take the case of Thomas Gunn, a 76-year old Chattanooga man who held two furniture delivery men hostage at gunpoint last weekend. I’m sure there’s more to his story than a simple mattress sale gone wrong. I’d be willing to bet his entire life had gone wrong in the days before he was charged with aggravated assault, kidnapping and carrying an unlawful weapon “over his furniture order being incomplete.”

My sympathy goes to the two men who were forced to drive back to the furniture store at gunpoint to speak to the manager about Mr. Gunn’s order. But when I’m faced with a difficult customer, a snippy salesperson or even a cranky relative, I try to remember the little old lady who needed a pink blouse to bury her mother.

Sometimes Ms. Jones’ problems are not your own.

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