Kindness begins with the understanding that we all struggle.
Rushing into the IGA that fall afternoon, I did not know I would get to be a part of something beautiful. In all honesty, I can’t even remember why I was in this grocery store. I never shopped here. It was out of my way and out of the circle that I lived my life within. But it was meant for me to be there at this particular time.
I can’t remember what was in my cart or what I went in for except that they have the best fresh candy selection in town. That was probably what I was checking out with! I do remember that it was close to Thanksgiving. That is the important part of this story — the when, not the what.
After selecting my items, I proceeded to the checkout line. I noticed a young woman in the line in front of me. Her clothes were raggedy, and she looked so tired. She had a toddler who could not have been more than three and a newborn who was just a few weeks old. Frazzled is how I would describe her. Bless her heart, the toddler was running and jumping around just like toddlers do. The baby was crying. My heart went out to her. I had been in her shoes with my own two sons.
She managed to get her groceries on the conveyor belt amidst all the chaos of her kids, and the clerk started checking out her items. As I stood behind her, I noticed that she was losing patience with her kids but didn’t know what to do. She was trying to balance both tasks without causing a huge disruption. I began to whisper a prayer of peace and strength over this woman. The line behind me continued to snake its way into an aisle. The pressure was growing.
As I watched her, I remembered a time that I had been in a grocery store with a toddler who was running around and a screaming baby. I remembered the grumpy, old man behind me and the inappropriate comment he made to me as I checked out. That memory took me away from the IGA line for a moment. When I came back to the present, I realized that the young woman was looking at a few items and trying to decide what she needed to put back. The people in line behind me were getting impatient and frustrated that she was holding them up even more now. The dancing toddler and screaming baby just added to the stress of her situation.
I touched her on the arm and asked her a simple question, “Honey, do you need these items for your children?”
“Yes, ma’am, but I don’t have enough on my EBT card to pay for them. I need them for Thanksgiving.”
My heart broke for this mama. It wasn’t my place to judge her, but it was my place to offer her what I could. The groceries that were lying there were certainly not luxuries but pantry staples.
“Ring up those groceries for her,” I said to the clerk.
“What?” the clerk asked.
“Ring up the rest of her groceries. I will pay for them. She needs them for her children.”
The young mama turned, looked at me and said, “No, it’s okay. I will put them back.”
“Are you a single mom?” I asked.
“Yes, ma’am, I am,” she replied hesitantly, almost embarrassed to admit it.
“Honey, I’m a single mom, too. Get those groceries. I’m happy to pay for them. I’ve been in your shoes. I know what it’s like.” To the clerk I said again, “Ring up the rest of her groceries.” With a wink, I said to the young mother, “Us single moms have to look out for each other.” The woman was moved to tears and grew silent.
The clerk did as I said but with a huge smile on her face. She said, “I have never seen anyone do something like this before!”
The man who was standing in line right behind me heard the whole conversation. He piped up and said to the clerk, “Whatever the total is, I will pay for half of it.”
I turned to him and said, “That is not necessary.”
He said, “I know it’s not, but what you have just done for this young woman has touched me. I’ve never gotten to be a part of something like this.” Then he turned to the young woman and wished her well.
She was seriously crying by this point and said, “I don’t know how to repay you.”
He said to her, “I’ll take a hug!” Instantly, she wiped her tears and hugged both of us. The clerk wiped her tears, too!
I gladly accepted my hug as payment for these groceries. I also said to her, “You can pay me back by remembering this. One day in your future, you will be in a place where you can do this for another single mom. Pay it forward. That is how you can pay me back besides the hug!”
She beamed. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you.” She happily pushed her groceries to the car. The dancing toddler was still dancing, and the baby was still crying, but now no one seemed to mind.
The total cost for the rest of the groceries was less than thirty dollars. The man behind me and I split that total and left the IGA with full hearts that danced like the toddler. It was worth every dime. Wherever she is today, I hope that young woman does remember what it’s like when she sees a struggling mama, and will pay it forward. Kindness can be given and received everywhere — even in the checkout line!
— Amy Mewborn —