Yesterday I came home after a 5 day trip with Jackson out east to play lacrosse. We had risen at 3 am to fly home, I was exhausted. Not just from travel, but from the weight of life. But the fridge was unbelievably bare (does no one know the way to the grocery store but me?). Grocery shopping isn’t my favorite job to begin with, let alone on little to no sleep and without a list – and I was too tired to make one.
Two full carts later I landed in the check out isle … working quickly to unload my cart, feeling the eyes of those behind me wondering what the hell I was doing with so much food. I assumed they were irritated that I would be taking so long. I apologized to the gentleman behind me — he was there with his grown son — for having so much to unload. He smiled and said, “You don’t worry about it. Not a problem at all.” We continued chatting — he laughing with me at the trials of feeding teenage boys.
At some point he started unloading groceries from my cart to the belt for me — as I was already making room on the other end by unloading the filled bags back into my cart (why do we have to touch groceries so many times before we use them?). Without me asking, without fanfare. He just quietly helped me. I thanked him profusely. His small gesture of kindness was genuine and so appreciated. As I walked out the door I was smiling – I was tired and done in – but I was smiling.
I walked past a car with a young woman on her cell phone, her eyes were red and her face was panic stricken. As I slowed my pace I noticed two other women — maybe the young woman’s mom? maybe a sister? peering into the mini van window, desperate. Something was locked in the car. By now, I was just a few steps to the other side of their van — dragging my enormous load. It’s amazing both how quickly and how slowly your mind will work when you are tired, when you see something out of the ordinary.
I dragged my carts to a halt. The window on the opposite side of the van was down 4 inches, plenty of room for her to get her hand in there. By now, I could hear a sweet baby crying. I lunged to the side of the car with the momma, her eyes were pierced with fear. She was nearly paralyzed. It was so hot out — nearly 90. “Sweetie,” I said. “The window is down on this side, it’s down. Far enough to get your hand in.” She had no idea. None. She hadn’t even looked. She had simply panicked, so afraid by her mistake, so scared by what she had accidentally done when she was just unloading groceries. So afraid for her son.
As she worked to get the boy out — which was rather quickly — he had been in there just a minute or two, I saw her face play out from fear, desperation, sliding deeply into guilt and shame as soon as she realized he would get out and be fine. I didn’t stay, I didn’t want to spectate her as she faced the flooding embarrassment. I saw she was afraid I was judging her. Before I walked away I said, “I’ve done it too, honey.” She said, “But I locked him in! I locked him in!” I said, “I know. I locked my son in the car once, too. He’s okay, just get your boy out. You’re ok.”
She and the grandma and aunt thanked me profusely, I stepped away quickly. I didn’t do anything, not a single thing, except notice. I noticed a solution and took 15 seconds to share it. I didn’t need thanks. I thought about her when I laid my head down to sleep last night. I thought about the night I locked Jackson in the car — just a few weeks old. In the late fall — it was cold. It was in our garage — and both sets of keys were inside with him (???). He slept through the whole thing — thank God — because he was in there for 20 minutes or so. I remember laying down that night and holding him, squeezing him tightly every time the thought of him alone in the car — true, just inches away, but not touchable — crept in. I hope she heard me. I hope she heard me say that I had done it too. I hope she heard me, not my words, but my tone of voice. I hope she heard me say what I didn’t use words to express … that she made a mistake, and that she will make so many more. That her boy was safe, and that there is no space for guilt or shame. That all she can do is learn — and move on. That she one mistake does not define her as a momma.
The gentleman in the store started a chain reaction of kindness — that I was simply a conduit for. He was kind to me, helpful, when I was exhausted and had barely enough energy to load my bags. Would I have had my eyes open to see the window if he hadn’t made me raise my head? If his kindness hadn’t buoyed me? I would like to think so — I try to reach out in ways of kindness and to help when I see a need. But I don’t know. I think the universe was teaching me – reminding me – how powerful kindness can be.
I have stayed away from political and controversial subjects here, but that doesn’t mean they don’t play out in my heart and mind. I may eventually share a few thoughts, but for now, I am going to leave you with the thought that kindness, no matter how small, changes the world. Be change. Be kind. I don’t always do it well, but I will always try. We all need reminders.