It was just another summer day. As I walked through the Walmart parking lot, my mind wandering over the store layout and my most efficient plan for hitting the aisles, a petite woman, probably in her sixties, wearing a floppy hat and large lens sunglasses, walked toward me. She was pushing her shopping cart with one hand and holding the brim of her hat with the other. I wasn’t expecting her to speak to me, and with all the clatter going on in my head, I think it surprised me when she did. “Isn’t that wind just wonderful”, she said to me, and I smiled and replied, “Yes, it is.”
That’s all she said, and that’s all I said. In that brief moment, I found out all I needed to know about this woman. Traces of her character and personality greeted me in the tone of her voice, the smile on her face, and in the way she held her hat as the swirling breeze tried to relinquish her firm yet gentle grip. She exuded happiness, appreciation, and peace. After enduring many previous days of depleting humidity, it was a simple forceful breeze that reinvigorated her spirit. She was relishing nature in that moment, and then, she generously and spontaneously chose to share it with me, a stranger. She was harmoniously in tune with herself; unafraid, welcoming, and carefree. I laughed as I passed her; it was such a simple thing to do, share a feeling, a thought, a realization. She made my day brighter.
Once I entered the store, I moved quickly claiming my spot in a long customer service line. Despite my previous encounter, I was feeling impatient, knowing I had multiple stores to get to; the line was cramping my style. A young mother stood in front of me with her son who was around five-years-old. She had blond hair, pulled back in a pony tail and wore a gray tank top which showed off her tattoos; one of an elephant. I watched as she and a helpful gentleman behind her hoisted her son into the cart seat.
From that point she and her son were immersed in one another. They quipped back and forth and laughed as they traded gentle tickles. She wasn’t concerned about what people thought or overwhelmed with the idea of waiting in a long line with a youngster; she was totally engaged in simple joyful silly banter with her child. It was so nice to watch.
I teared up at one point, recalling shopping days of old with my oldest son, some twenty-five years ago. I remembered the same feeling of joy, but, I also experienced a sense of loss, recognizing those sweet days were long gone for me. My good memories refueled me though, and I replaced any feelings of sadness with those of appreciation.
With my emotions now safely intact, and with eight store stops now in the rear, I moved on to my last stop – the grocery store. I knew my plan of attack; my list strategically compiled by aisle. I hit the middle aisles first, efficiently stacking items in the cart, but unfortunately, once I hit produce, chaos ensued and I started skipping aisles, and therefore missing items on my list. This time it was the garlic.
There were two people in the garlic aisle; an older woman and a young man. She had shoulder length gray hair, a simple bobby pin holding it back to one side, out of her face. Her lips regressed inward like my grandmother’s used to when she wasn’t wearing her dentures. She seemed troubled, looking for something in particular, and she was parked right in front of the garlic. The young man stood near her cart; the pair blocking my reach. The two were quietly conversing. I stood back, watching and listening, and it became clear to me that the garlic could wait.
“That’s on the other side”, he said softly, “let me get that for you.” She looked at him a bit confused, then looked over her shoulders, to the right and then the left. He repeated himself motioning that the next aisle over contained what she was looking for. He walked past me and she turned and followed. It was nice to see, especially because I knew he was not a store employee. He was so patient; just a young man lending an elderly lady a helping hand.
Some shopping days are not ideal, filled with unhappy impatient shoppers, and many times, less than understanding parents accompanied by understandably unhappy children. It’s truly a crap shoot out there. But sometimes we get those shopping days where if we’re paying attention, if we are watching and listening, we may see that goodness is still possible. It’s those times that cause our hearts and brains to reconnect at a higher level, ultimately restoring our faith in humanity and in ourselves.
Three very different instances of pure joy and kindness were shared with me that day; each moving me beyond my own impatience and into a realm of appreciation I did not expect. Subtle encounters with strangers allowed me to see, and therefore to feel. I think in this life we are meant to make an impact on those around us; we are here to give, and sometimes we do it without even knowing.
Needless to say, the grocery store playlist never sounded better as I proceeded to the register lines. I felt uplifted, renewed, and blessed. I recognized the generous gifts I’d been given that day, extremely grateful that I was aware enough to take the simplest of gestures and feed my soul with them.
Some of the artwork you see from time to time on my blog posts is by artist Donna Estabrooks. Her studio is located in Florence, Massachusetts. When visiting family in Amherst, Massachusetts, I enjoy viewing her work on display at Judie’s, a restaurant with as much flair for food as Donna has for art. Her work is unique, playful, and bursting with meaning. Sometimes it’s just the perfect fit for my posts.