“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest good intention.” ~Oscar Wilde
Three times in the last two months I have nearly been run over by a fellow shopper’s grocery cart. Each time the customer rushing closely behind me had to suddenly swerve and push past, clearly annoyed with the obstacle, which was me.
As unpleasant as this was, I can relate to that shopper’s sense of urgency. Grocery shopping is one of my least favorite tasks. I focus on my list, sometimes while talking on the phone, and get done as quickly as possible.
There has always been busyness and stress to distract us from one another. Now with the pervasiveness of smart phones, there are requests for our attention always at our fingertips, pulling us away from the people right in front of us.
When I focus exclusively on my own needs I, too, am oblivious to the people around me.
I used to take my grandmother to the grocery store, when she was still determined to do her own shopping. Long suffering with emphysema, it took a tremendous amount of energy for her to get dressed and go on such an outing.
As she rode around in her scooter while I walked in tandem, she always had a smile for the ladies behind the deli counter who remembered her name. At check out, too, the clerks recognized her and would say how good it was to see her. Once in a while another shopper would look at her and share a friendly greeting.
In those moments I glimpsed my grandmother’s younger, playful self as she bantered back and forth, eager to experience those connections again.
I felt overflowing gratitude for these small acts of kindness. These folks could easily have continued about their day without pausing to acknowledge this frail woman. Such a small effort on their part became a high point that would set the tone for the rest of my grandmother’s day.
The reason she persevered in doing her own shopping was not the independence of getting her own groceries; it was the shared humanity she experienced in these small acts of kindness.
The conversations with the salesclerks and the few shoppers who smiled and greeted her buoyed her spirits beyond anything I alone could provide.
In the produce section recently I was considering my mental shopping list when a woman approached. She paused a moment to gaze at the heads of red leaf lettuce. Then she turned to me and beamed,
“Aren’t they just so pretty?!”
She happily picked one up and continued shopping. As I paused in front of the lettuces I realized they were quite lovely. And I smiled.
In one simple, refreshing comment that woman shared an acknowledgement of me.
She saw me, affirmed our shared experience, and presumed that I, too, would value the beauty laid before us.
My life is full. I am not seeking friendship in the grocery store.
But in that simple exchange I was reminded that we are all connected to one another.
I recently read that “among our most powerful human motive is the desire to form and maintain social bonds.” (Baumerstein & Leary.) We are social beings. No matter how busy or independent we are, our actions affect others.
With that in mind, while I was at the grocery today I made a few changes.
I walked at a steady pace. No speeding down the aisles.
At the freezer aisle a lady in a scooter asked me for help. This never happened when I was racing through the aisles. I gladly reached what she needed.
I looked around me and made eye contact with several people. I stayed off my phone.
In the cereal aisle I noticed a woman with two young children, and I smiled at her.
At the check out, an older gentleman ahead of me turned around hesitantly. On making eye contact he initiated a conversation about his wife who passed away. It was a brief exchange that never would have happened had I been checking my email on my smart phone.
I will never know how these small acts of kindness affected anyone else today. But I do know that I respected my connection to these strangers by being fully present in those moments.
Being open to others might take us away briefly from our multitasking, busy lives. But by doing so we honor the inherent value in ourselves and each other. And nobody is left feeling like a speed bump in the grocery aisle of life.
Photo by Steve Hardy