Friday, November 25, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

Why do we judge?  The other day I was taking my 85 year old mother on her weekly grocery shopping trip.  It was three days before Thanksgiving and the stress level was palpable among the busy people both shopping and working.  I entered the situation with a less-than-perfect attitude of defensiveness.  I really try to smile at everyone and alleviate the combativeness which seems ever present in the marketplace these days.  However my heart was not behind my smile this day, and the truth was about to show its ugly face.

My frail mother moves slowly and shakily.  People nearly bowl her over several times on each trip.  I want to protect her.  In the check-out line I placed Mom's items on the belt.  She was purchasing a bag of bulk cookies for herself and her grandchildren.  They usually sell for about $1.79 per pound.  I noticed that the  bag totaled nearly $6 and thought there must be some mistake.  The price on the cookies had gone up $1 per pound, more than 1/2, in one week.  So we asked for a price check.  The line behind us was not pleased.  The next lady in line asked the cashier if our sale could be “suspended” to move things along.  It was as if she said, "Move aside old lady; you're gummin' up the works!"  My shaky mother got shakier handling her change purse and shopper’s card.  I was instantly indignant.  I tried to glare at the woman, but she avoided my eyes.  How could she not see my mother’s age and disabilities?  How could she be in such a hurry that my mother’s need for simple customer service meant she should be pushed aside to not slow down the treadmill-like flow?

We left the store and that’s when my internal judgment of this complete stranger came back to haunt me.  “Excuse me, excuse me!”  The woman was running up to me with the $6 bag of cookies.  “I want your mother to have these.  My mother is very, very sick and your mother reminded me of her and I just want her to have these cookies.  Merry Christmas.”  She had tears in her eyes.  A merciful sword pierced my pride.  Ugh.  Thanks be to God, He did not allow the woman to see my disdainful glance at her back inside the store.  Thanks be to God, He showed me the true status of my heart.
My mother did not "need" these cookies.  The only reason she didn't buy them herself was to let the store know that she was not pleased with the extreme increase in price.   Though she didn't need the cookies Mom was very, very touched by this stranger's gesture.  She told the story to many people in the coming days, including the thought that, even though the news reports so many bad things going on, there are still many kind people in the world.  She was comforted and reassured by a stranger and a bag of cookies.

The truth is, we do not know what other people are going through.  We do not know their troubles and stresses.  All we can and should do is smile and pray for folks when their behavior seems less than courteous.  That driver on your tail may actually be in a hurry.  There may be someone sick and afraid waiting all alone.  The clerk having a conversation with another clerk instead of you may be doing her doggone best just to make it through the day and get home to her children.  And just when you least expect it, some harried soul may show you what true charity really looks like.

By the way, the cookie lady’s mother’s name is Mary.  Please pray for her and for her beautiful daughter.  

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