Today I went to a local, small town, grocery store. It is not my usual small town store, but I had to be in another town, so I stopped in. I was stressed. I had a headache. It was busy, 5pm rush. Everyone was stressed. Sound familiar? This is a crowded little store, where they line the aisles with sale items, and stack boxes to the ceilings to try to compete with the big box stores. It feels as though the seams are bulging, ready to burst at any moment. This feeling is amplified when it is full of hurried, harried, stressed-out people. So here I was, hurting, worrying, and just trying to get the essentials I had come in for. I wonder how many others in that store were feeling the same way as I was, or worse. As I tried to move through the store, I had to immediately stop, and pull over, if you will, to allow other shoppers to pass, and shop around me. There is only room for one person to sneak through the aisle with or without a cart. Add 15 people per aisle. You get the idea. Claustrophobic by the simplest definition. I noticed one particular little elderly lady. She was one of those beautifully aged ladies. I am not talking about the anti-aging definition of beautiful. She was aged, and she wore life well lived, like a beautiful merit of honor. Her soft, creased skin bore the lines of happiness from smiling. Around her eyes, and around her mouth was the evidence that she had lived, and loved, it appeared, very deeply. She had lovely, short, snow-white hair, done up to perfection. She was dressed nicely, if not expensively. She wore trendy glasses, but most of all she had soft, kind, brown eyes, and a beautiful soul-warming smile. She also had a hard time walking through the store pushing her cart. Her small frame wore the heavy burden of age. She leaned heavily on her cart, and appeared to not be able to straighten her spine any longer. Yet she was markedly beautiful, although she seemed invisible, or at best, an inconvenience to many of the other shoppers. People looked past her, or around her, or just seemed annoyed with her presence. Our paths crossed a few times during our individual shopping excursions. We exchanged warm smiles each time, and her soft brown eyes spoke volumes, as we politely tried to finish our lists. She made an impression upon my heart, right from the get go. I began to become more aware of the others around me, rather than what was troubling me, from that first smile, and exchange of kindness. My heart began to lighten, and it became easier to breathe each time we came around the corner, and excused ourselves for being in the way. I enjoyed this woman’s smile. It was warm, comforting, and so very kind. The kindness radiated from her soft gaze, and her warm being. I can only wonder, if I made such an impact upon her. Looking back, I don’t think so, but one never really knows for sure. The wonderful thing is someone else did.
I had finished my shopping finally, and carefully navigated my way to the overrun checkout lanes. I quickly assessed which check-out aisle looked as if it would be the best bet to get me out of there quickly. Although I was not really in a hurry, the habit of being hurried prevailed. As I stood in line, I noticed the lovely elderly lady with the soft brown eyes, and warm smile, in the checkout aisle next to me. She was getting ready to checkout. The checkout lanes in this particular store, are even more congested than the shopping aisles. There are many add-on displays that hang from the narrow rows of shelving and coolers that line the checkout. An average, mobile person can barely squeeze their cart into the space, let alone empty it. It is very awkward and challenging, to say the least. My attention was diverted momentarily to the shoppers in front of me, a mother with disabilities, and two young adult daughters who had brought her shopping. They were facing their own set of challenges. I took a deep breath and realized that I was not actually in a hurry, and it was ok to wait. I took a few more deep breaths, and decided to embrace the blessing of standing still. About the time that I noticed the two men behind the kind elderly lady with the soft brown eyes, her cart pushed into an add-on display as she struggled to reach, and empty it. Those guys sprung into action without hesitation. They were father and young adult son. Their cart bared the evidence that they lived together, without a woman’s presence, likely. Their clothing was average, not extremely clean, but not extremely dirty, showing some wear, and smelled of cigarettes. I had encountered them earlier in aisle 9. They were discussing things that men who live together discuss in the grocery store. Do we need bread? I got the soup. Did we need soda? I said excuse me, as I smiled, made eye contact, and walked around them. The father had a kind smile, and tired eyes. These two men who bore the burden of life heavily, moved swiftly, and intentionally to help the kind elderly lady with the soft brown eyes. The rough around the edges son, caught the falling display. The father righted the cart, and moved in to help our kind lady. He smiled at her, and looked into her soft brown eyes, and I am sure experienced the warmth in them that I had. She smiled back, somewhat embarrassed and tired by this time. She apologized for being in the way, and struggling. He never missed a beat. He continued smiling, looking into her eyes, talking and interacting with her, as he unloaded her cart onto the conveyor counter. As they chatted, the young man, his father’s son, continued to struggle with re-attching the display. It did not go easily, but he did not quit, become frustrated, or give up. After a few moments he was able to attach it, and help his dad finish putting the groceries from the stranger’s cart onto the counter. They both smiled at the lady with the soft brown eyes, and chatted easily with her as they helped. Her burden appeared to be lightened, and then relieved. She had been helped, but most of all she had been acknowledged with kindness and generosity of the spirit. The two kind men never hesitated. They did not look away. They did not pretend to not notice. They acted swiftly, and without hesitation, from a place of kindness of the heart. The father looked up, and I caught his eye. I smiled my warmest, best smile to say “Thank You” from the bottom of my heart, for restoring my faith in humanity, and for allowing me the chance to be witness to their beautiful, kind actions, and their hearts. The truth of their spirits shone through, and permeated the busyness of the store. Time slowed, as I realized I was blessed to have observed, and somehow participated in a miracle. I believe all those who were present and participating, were also blessed in their own ways. The kind elderly lady with the soft brown eyes seemed to relax into the kindness that was being shown to her, although this took a few moments, as you could tell that she was used to being invisible to the others around her. Slowly, with a small amount of hesitation, the truth of her spirit prevailed as well. She returned the kindness and love shown to her by complete strangers without hesitation. The warmth of her touch to the father’s rounded shoulder that bore the weight of life, spoke more than words ever could have. Those two kind men, father and son, although rough around the edges, stood taller, moved lighter, smiled easier, and chatted with each other, and those around them, as they left the store. I have to wonder if this random act of kindness did not affect them deeply as well. They appeared changed. Lightened, as though life was not nearly as difficult and heavy, as it had been only a few moments earlier.
I know that I am changed. My heart has been lightened and somehow healed through the kindness and love that was an interaction between strangers. An ordinary trip to the grocery store has touched me deeply. A random act of kindness became a miracle between souls, in a crowded, busy, place of business. Kindness is not only something that affects others, but also blesses our own hearts. May we all be so blessed. May we all encounter Angels this holiday season.