When a snowstorm is looming, half the people in town immediately head for Safeway to stock up. (The other half head for Walmart to stock up.) Not me. I head for the library to stock up. If we have enough reading material, who cares whether we run out of milk?
On the other hand, I do care if we run out of carrots, bananas, or chocolate. On the day before our last snowstorm, it just so happened that our last banana was peeled at breakfast and we were down to one lonely carrot. Despite having an ample supply of chocolate, I ended up at Safeway with the rest of the pre-storm shoppers.
All those other people, of course, were over-reacting to the weather forecast. I merely was the victim of bad banana timing.
Getting close to the dairy case meant threading through an obstacle course of carts. Turning at the blind intersection at the end of an aisle meant risking life and limb—or at least the carton of eggs. I felt lucky to snag a decent bunch of bananas from the dwindling supply.
Then I got to the checkout. There were several carts crowded into each lane, spilling out into the aisle in ragged rows. People who were either still shopping or were looking with misplaced optimism for a shorter line were barely able to maneuver past the carts already waiting.
All this would seem like a sure formula for anger, flaring tempers, and disputes over who was in the uneven line ahead of whom.
I didn’t see any of that. I’m sure some people were feeling impatient and irritated. Some of them, like me, may have been annoyed with themselves for not making time for a trip to the store the day before. But the overall atmosphere was one of camaraderie. People smiled and said, “Excuse me,” after near-collisions in the aisles. They made room for each other. They seemed to feel a sense of unity in the face of a common threat—the snowstorm—rather than seeing the other shoppers as the competition.
The woman ahead of me in the checkout line was busy organizing all of us, moving her cart just here so I could park mine just there and make the best use of the limited space we had. While we were waiting, she talked to the baby in the cart ahead of her. When it was her turn at the cash register, she sympathized with the checker about her busy morning. I was so busy watching her no-nonsense kindness that I completely forgot to be irritated and was out of the store with my groceries before I knew it.
For a little while, that crowded supermarket became an oasis of cooperation and tolerance in a week that desperately needed both. It was a small reminder of the enormous value of practical kindness.