101: It’s a Wonderful World

101: It’s a Wonderful World

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America

It’s a Wonderful World

When strangers start acting like neighbors . . . communities are reinvigorated.

~Ralph Nader

I was in line at the grocery store waiting to pay for a couple of items I needed for dinner. I was in a good mood, thinking about the nice lunch I had just had with a good friend.

A woman near my own age was behind me in line. She had one can of cake frosting and was counting a handful of change to pay for it. When she saw me looking at her, she said, “Have you ever been unemployed? I’m counting this ahead of time so I won’t be embarrassed.”

I said, “Yes, I’ve been there.”

She asked what I did for a living now. I told her I was self-employed, and money was still a bit tight, but I assured her that it does get better. I looked more closely at her then. She was clean, but her clothes were old and ragged. Her eyes were red as if she’d been crying. Her face was wrinkled from worry, and her hands were weathered and old looking.

It had been a couple of scary years financially for my husband and me. Things were getting better, but I remembered in the past counting the items in my cart and mentally calculating the total so I wouldn’t be embarrassed at the checkout by not having enough money. I often had to put some items back on the shelf.

All that this woman wanted was a can of frosting, and I could do that for her. But I wondered how to do it so as to not embarrass her. I quietly picked up the can and put it on my side of the separator on the belt. When she objected, I told her, “Someone just bought me lunch, and now it’s my turn to do something nice.” She was stunned, and tears welled up in her eyes. I guessed it wasn’t the first time that day that she had cried, but at least this time maybe they were tears of relief.

The cashier was a kind woman and saw what was happening. She was very subtle about the transaction and slid the frosting into a separate bag for my new friend. The woman smiled at me as she walked away with her sweet treasure. I could tell it had made her day that someone cared enough to help. It didn’t matter to me if she was frosting cupcakes for her grandkids or eating it all with a spoon; it did me good to do it!

That experience made me imagine what a wonderful world it would be if everyone paid attention to what others might need and, if we could, helped them without expecting anything in return.

I remember what my neighbor did for us during our tough times. We have three critters that depend on us — two beautiful dogs and a parakeet. We love them all very much, but I was afraid we were going to have to find new homes for them because we didn’t know how we were going to feed them. One day, we opened the front door to find a huge bag of dog food and a big canister of parakeet food on the front porch, courtesy of our neighbor Becky. She knew we were struggling and wanted to help. After I dried my tears of gratitude, I went to thank her. She reminded me of a time when she lost her job, and we bought her groceries. I had forgotten about that, but she hadn’t.

Tough financial times can form a bond of support throughout the community . . . neighbor helping neighbor and stranger helping stranger. Maybe instead of wishing and hoping for a better world, we can create it one act of kindness at a time.

~Stephanie Pifer-Stone

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