Kindness can help us fight this “invisible enemy”
As soon as I entered the grocery store, I felt naked. I didn’t see many patrons shopping, but every single one of them wore gloves. No masks, but everywhere I looked, gloved hands gripped grocery cart handles. My bare hands embarrassed me.
All my fellow shoppers kept their distance from each other. If we passed in an aisle, we passed as far apart as possible. No one was particularly friendly or interactive, as if “social separation” meant keeping our distance emotionally as well as physically. I don’t believe I exchanged a single smile.
And yet it felt like a kinder, gentler grocery shopping experience.
Publix staff members were stocking the shelves. Quite at the mercy of their shopping clients, they were unable to socially distance themselves. But despite having no face masks or gloves to protect themselves, they didn’t dodge my approach and, instead, each one looked me in the eye and asked if I was finding everything.
It felt so normal that I gave a normal answer.
“Absolutely!” I said, gaily, though, of course, I hadn’t been able to find everything. Many of the shelves were empty; many items on my list were circled instead of crossed out, indicating I hadn’t found them. Still, it felt right to say it.
“Thank you for being here,” I added as I passed. I didn’t say more because I felt the emotion of passing by someone on the front lines of this war with our invisible enemy, COVID-19.
In the paper products aisle, I snagged the last multi-pack of paper towels and one of the two remaining boxes of tissues. I felt generous in leaving a box on the shelf. The toilet paper was gone, of course. Still, no one tried to grab my bounty from my cart or even came close to me.
In the produce section, I chatted a few minutes with one of the staff members as he unloaded boxes of vegetables and filled the refrigerated bins. Typically, he was so chatty I had trouble getting away from him, but today he was subdued.
“Well, I guess you’ve got great job security,” I called to him as a greeting, as I drew near (keeping the prescribed six feet distance, of course).
“That’s for sure,” he replied. “Everything I’m stocking now will be empty again before the store closes.”
We talked a little longer about COVID-19 and the crazy world we suddenly had. As I walked toward the checkout stations, I was impressed that I was able to have an almost normal experience at Publix, “where shopping is a pleasure” — even during the Coronavirus pandemic.
I attributed my kinder, gentler grocery shopping experience to these heroes in green uniforms, who, just by continuing to come to work, made it possible.
“How does it feel to have one of the most important jobs in the world?” I asked Lysa, the cashier, as I loaded my groceries onto the conveyor belt.
“I feel like I’m a super hero!” she said, smiling broadly.
“You are! That’s such a great way of looking at this.”
Another kinder, gentler time in my life
Years and years ago, when my first husband was hospitalized in the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, I had a similar experience. Back then, it was just our bit of the world that was crazy and harsh. Bill was ill. I was trying to be available to him in another city while continuing to work a full-time job hours away. At one point, our one car spent several days in the repair shop.
It seemed that everywhere I went, I was met with kindness. The auto repair shop. My eye doctor (who usually seemed rather gruff and almost rude). Store clerks, fellow workers, friends. A colleague lent me his car, even though he knew I’d be driving out of town. Cumulatively it seemed so over-the-top nice that I mentioned it to my boss.
“That’s because you are so nice,” he said to me.
Normally, I would have protested, but I realized he was right.
In my shell-shocked state, I was profusely thankful for behaviors that were normal. Usually friendly and polite, I became gentler, more thankful, more patient, more gracious in my dealings with other people.
They acted in kind.
I hadn’t done it on purpose, but I was living out the Golden Rule.
The Bible says in Matthew 7:12 that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated.
I try to live out the Golden Rule most days, but I was particularly gentle in my dealings with other people. Maybe because my world felt so war-torn by Bill’s illness, I approached each situation gingerly, as if I were carefully testing it.
I liken my approach to one I would take when meeting an animal or entering a body of water. Before reaching out to pet a strange dog, for instance, I might extend my hand and let the dog sniff me first. Or if I were a Goldilocks type who wanted a bath or a pool at a perfect temperature range, I might dip in my toe rather than recklessly plunge into the water’s depths.
How that lesson applies today
My kinder, gentler shopping trip to Publix was likely kinder and gentler because I was kinder and gentler, much like my experience so many years ago.
In this coronavirus-war-torn moment, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the grocery store that day. (Not the social norm of wearing gloves, obviously!) Therefore, I entered cautiously, meekly.
Rather than expecting everything to be in my favor — as if I deserved it — I looked at the situation as an unknown, myself as one shopper among many, attempting to supply a personal need while adhering to a new social norm for the greater good. I didn’t expect to find everything on my list — and I wasn’t disappointed! But it made me thankful for what I did find.
Please don’t think I’m showcasing my goodness — after all, I am only pointing to two episodes in my life rather than a lifestyle. I’m pointing to a different approach, a Biblical approach, that we might attempt to bring some peace in this time of uncertainty.
Treat others the way you would like to be treated. And, by all means, recognize all of the essential personnel — the healthcare workers, grocery store employees, the trash collectors, the task force of experts addressing the problem, yes, and even reporters and elected representatives — for the warriors on the front lines that they are.
Imagine if rather than anger, fear, and frustration at all the crazy happenings in the wake of COVID-19, we applied the Golden Rule. What if we let the Coronavirus bring out our best selves and chose to be kind?
My hands weren’t the only thing naked that glove-less day at the grocery store. My heart was bare, too. (Actually, both are bare now, as I type this.)
What have your experiences been in those rare moments when you’ve ventured outside your home? I’d love to know.