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My Unsung Hero: A patient customer eases a woman's first day on the job

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain, where we hear the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

Today's story comes from Stephanie Cole. She remembers when she got her very first job as a teenager. It was around the winter holidays at a department store in Los Angeles.

STEPHANIE COLE: There I was in my black skirt and my white blouse and ready to go the first day. And I had been trained, but very, very quickly. And as is true in a department store during Christmas, it was just bustling. You know how it is at Christmas, when everybody's out shopping, and everybody's in a hurry? And all these people are around.

This woman comes up to me with, I think, a Christmas tree ornament she wanted to buy. And I freeze. I just freeze. All of a sudden, I can't remember anything. I can't remember how to run the cash register. I can't remember anything about the transactions. I am just absolutely frozen and probably very close to tears. Just - I so wanted this to go right, and it was going so wrong.

She looked at me and paused and with such a kind expression on her face, said, it's all right. Take your time. I'm not in a hurry. And that was the release. All of a sudden, I could breathe. I could wait till somebody else could help me. It was going to be OK.

It made such an impression that all these years later, not only do I still remember it, but I find myself - those words coming out of my mouth on numerous - many, many occasions over the years. You know, you encounter somebody whose first day on the job or they're just having a bad day and things are really - you can tell they're in a bad place, and you can say, it's OK. I'm not in a hurry. Take your time. And it always makes the situation better - always, always.

And so this woman - I can't really remember her face, and certainly she's probably dead by now, given how old I was and how old she was. But she gave me that gift without knowing she gave me that gift. And it's lasted all these years.

SHAPIRO: Stephanie Cole is from Bainbridge Island, Wash.

You can find more stories from "My Unsung Hero" wherever you get your podcasts. And to share the story of your unsung hero, record a voice memo on your phone and email it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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