Updated: Feb 23, 2021
I dreaded the idea of heading to Menards and Walmart on a Friday night two weeks before Christmas. Even with the COVID slowdown, I had a hunch that both places would be bustling with people possessed with the same anxiousness that I have about being around strangers right now.
I pulled into the Menards parking lot and braced myself for the experience I was predicting in my mind -- long lines, people wearing masks as chin straps (or not at all), and staff too overwhelmed to help.
I needed three 40 pound bags of salt pellets and several gifts. To avoid pushing 120 pounds of salt around the store, I decided I would grab salt on my way out.
In the checkout line I found myself behind an "oldish" couple that didn't seem to be in a hurry. They were checking the prices of the purchases against the sale flyer to ensure they weren't over-charged. On my way to Menards, I had listened to a podcast episode of the Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos about how technology allows us to bank, shop and dine without talking to another human being -- but oddly all the time we save hasn't made us happier. Turns out, talking to strangers can bring us genuine joy.
Her story suggested that waiting in line affords us the opportunity to observe what is around us and engage in conversation with strangers (masked and standing safely 6 ft apart, of course.) The episode was fresh in my mind but that didn't stop me from becoming irritated by their pace.
So I took a deep breath and watched the couple load up their purchases one by one. It was touching how patient the gentleman was with his wife. As she checked off the price, he would pack the item in the bag. This made me wonder how long the couple had been together because they seemed to move as one unit.
The checkout gal motioned me forward as they continued to pack. I mentioned that I needed 3 bags of salt but would grab them on my way out. While she rang me up, the gentleman in front of me grabbed the heavy bags of salt and loaded them into my cart. As I thanked him, he winked at me and said he lived on a farm and was used to that kind of work. I don't know if it was my pink coat that gave me away, but he must've known I wasn't a farm hand. I told him he made my day and wished him a Merry Christmas.
I moved onto my next errand. Determined to hold onto the glow from the kindness of the older man, I walked into Walmart to gather my lowest-price-guarantee household items. I wanted to pay the gentleman's kindness forward or take an opportunity to connect with another human. The customer in front of me at checkout was preoccupied with her phone while her toddler screeched and grabbed at the candy. It wasn't a good opportunity so I felt my glow diminish. While I watched the unruly child, I had to force myself to recall how difficult it was to haul around toddlers.
When I reached the front of the line I noticed the Walmart employee's name was Marion. I mentioned to her that she had the same name as my grandma and that I didn't see it often. She told me she was the only person she knew with that name, too. I asked her how COVID was impacting her job and was surprised when she told me it was a good thing. She thought people were happier because lines were shorter and they were generally glad to be out and about. Had I not talked to Marion, my perspective wouldn't have mirrored hers. I would have left Walmart with the energy of the screeching toddler in my mind. Instead, my happy thoughts were about Marion and my grandma.
The final stop was the Panda Express. The line was eight cars deep, so I took the opportunity to listen to Christmas music and think about my grandma. Her favorite holiday was Christmas Eve and she hosted the entire family every year. She had 7 kids and 16 grandkids so it was a full house and a rare opportunity for us to be together. Grandma Marion would make sure all of the grandkids had their wrapped gifts and cards before we could begin opening. She would give the signal and we would tear into our presents. It was mayhem and she loved it.
I have fond memories of that holiday and believe she willed herself to wait until Christmas Day instead of Christmas Eve to pass away. There was no way she would leave this world and have her family grieve on her favorite day. She died at 12:02 AM on Christmas morning.
When I got to the window, the young lady handed me my bag and was giddy to tell me the car in front of me had paid for my order. I handed her my card and told her I wanted to pay for the car behind me. She said I was the sixth car to do that and blurted, "I love this" as she handed me my receipt.
I have no idea how long that giving train lasted, but it doesn't matter. For a young lady to be so happy working on a Friday night in the middle of December, during COVID, for minimum wage made my heart burst with joy. True joy! Her happiness was the magic of the season that my grandmother loved about Christmas.
From the older gentleman at Menards, to Marion at Walmart, to the young gal working at the Panda Express, I realized I had been gifted with a series of small, beautiful moments.
I wondered how many magical moments I've missed in my life because I've been too busy on my phone; or judging the mother with the screeching toddler; or inconvenienced with a 20 minute wait in a drive through line.
How many Marion's are working at Walmart witnessing happy people? These are not perspectives that just happen. These are choices. I have no doubt that Marion could find 100 reasons to be unhappy or uncomfortable. And I wouldn't bat an eye if busy employees working a hectic Friday night were short-tempered and distant.
But instead, one person decided to pay for someone else's food; another chose to help with heavy bags of salt; and a third focused on what was positive about a global pandemic shopping experience.
When we slow down and truly notice what's happening around us, it's likely we will see ordinary people doing extraordinary things and bringing light to the world. The question is this: will we see it, or focus on the darkness? We get to choose.
Today, I'm choosing JOY.
To frame our perspectives in goodness instead of light is a choice. Acceptance and gratitude are powerful perspectives that begin with awareness and move upward toward love.
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