Clara and I were walking through a department store just before Christmas when a woman’s voice came over the intercom. It was a prerecorded advertisement talking about how the company is handling its COVID response in order to keep shoppers safe. I wasn’t really paying attention until the very end when there was a brief upbeat jingle and the lady said, “…because your health is our commitment.” and Clara kind of snorted next to me, while leaning over a jewelry case.

I narrowed my eyes at her, “What? What was that?”

She looked surprised, “Hmm? Oh. Just…” she pointed at the ceiling. “our health is their commitment…” She turned back to the jewelry counter. “They can quit whenever they want to, and they know it.”

I was a bit stunned and just stared at the little girl.

“That’s not real commitment, right?” she said leaning over a collection of diamond rings.

I suddenly felt a bit trapped. “I mean, right. I’m glad you understand what commitment means. But it’s fine for a company to say that they are committed to our health and safety… I think.” I was suddenly unsure.

She glanced at me sideways. Her face was hard to read under her mask, “Well… I just hope people are learning about commitment from somewhere other than over the intercom at a department store.”

I watched as she wandered off down the jewelry counter. A moment or two later, she suddenly stuffed her gloved hands into her coat pockets and turned back towards me. “Why is all this jewelry so expensive?”

I pointed to a sign on the counter that I knew she had not looked at. “It’s actually 60% off. That’s typically how they sell jewelry. It’s always on sale.” I hesitated. She didn’t look at the sign, or the jewelry in the counter, just at me. “It… um…” I stumbled for the right words.

She finished the sentence for me, “…Makes you think you are saving money when really you are paying exactly what they want you to pay for it?”

I nodded. She nodded back as if this somehow confirmed everything she had just been trying to say.

I shook my head. Where is the line between shrewd and cynical? I considered this question as I followed the girl off in the direction of the clothing section. And I suddenly felt a bit dizzy as if I had just realized I was walking on a tightrope strung between two cliffs and I heard the rushing of a great wind rattling through the canyon below.