We’re all a little on edge these days with tense race relations in many quarters, strained police and community relations, and the outline of a mushroom cloud hovering over the culture wars. You wonder who and what will explode next.
All of which is why I felt terrible about an incident at a big box home improvement store recently.
We were with a handful of the grandkids who had signed up to make a free Mother’s Day craft. We spare no expense for loved ones in this family. If it is free, we will be there.
The girls had finished assembling their little wooden planters, or rather they had finished watching adults assemble the planters, and we were ambling out to the garden center so they could pick out little plants for the planters.
The 2-year-old wanted to be held. I hoisted her in my arms, but within the length of one aisle it felt like I was carrying a sumo wrestler. I spotted an empty cart and put her in it. She tried to resist, but I stuffed her little legs in and plopped her bottom down.
Relief. Free arms once again. Maybe I wouldn’t need back and shoulder surgery after all. And then the husband called my name. He gestured to a man and said, “You just took that man’s cart.”
The man looked stunned. I was mortified. Having been the victim of shopping cart theft myself, I would never intentionally take another shopper’s cart. And being that the man happened to be black and I happened to be white suddenly complicated things in a way they would not have felt complicated even a year ago. These days the world is ripe with tension, innuendo and unspoken implications.
Did he think I was some uppity white woman thinking I could do what I wanted and take what I wanted? I apologized profusely and attempted to extricate the 2-year-old from the cart. Naturally, the kid who didn’t want to go into the cart, now didn’t want to get out of the cart.
Plus the twins had now plastered themselves to either side of the cart. We were shopping cart squatters, attempting to take something that rightfully belonged to another. “Off the cart, girls! Now!”
The man said it was OK, and I said it wasn’t OK. Other shoppers were looking now; we had managed to create a small scene among giant bags of Bug B Gon and Weed and Feed.
While I was still attempting to peel three kids off the stolen cart, the man walked over and put his arm around me. He smiled and said, “Happy Mother’s Day.”
Kindness. Like a hot knife through butter.
For a second, I thought I might burst into tears. Not because of the cart, but because this world is so broken that something like a shopping cart could be ladened with hidden messages and hurt. But the man graciously, and firmly, put an awkward situation to rest with the simple power of kindness. We could use a lot more kindness these days.
Thank you, sir, for showing how its done.