As we’ve seen time and time again, you truly never know what the person next to you is going through. It can be so easy to make snap judgements, but– until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes– it’s impossible to determine another’s situation. Each person you meet on the street comes with his or her own story.
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Gina Medaris Murrow recently learned this while waiting in line for the cashier at Jo-Ann Fabrics. When a child in line behind her began to get fussy, her first thought was to become irritated. “I was too tired to feel patient,” she recalled. But a stranger “bearing a hidden pain” stepped in to make everyone smile.
I was standing in a long line at JoAnn Fabrics yesterday, feeling rushed and tired. Two people in front of me, many more behind me and only one clerk. The second lady in line had a 4-year-old son in the cart, who though behaving, was clearly ready to be done with shopping. I’m ashamed to say I inwardly groaned; I was too tired to feel patient with a whiney boy.
Then the first woman in line turned to the mom and son with a big smile, ‘Gummy bears!’ she exclaimed pointing at the bag of sweets the boy was holding. ‘I love the yellow ones! Which is your favorite?’ She was so warm, friendly and inviting, immediately the boy smiled and responded. ‘I like the green ones,’ he said shyly. They carried on a lively conversation about candy bears, and their cheerfulness began to spill over into the line. I started smiling. I looked at the line behind me and everyone in line was smiling. When the clerk was available, the first woman waved the mom and son through, ‘You go on,’ she said with a smile. The grateful mom pushed the cart up to check out, and I moved up next to the smiling woman.
‘That was so nice of you,’ I said and smiled at her. ‘Ah, well, it’s the least I could do,’ she chuckled, ‘He was doing well, but I could tell he was getting tired.’ Then her face took on a wistful look as she watched them check out. ‘My son passed,’ she said softly. What?! I looked at her face. She was serious. ‘That could have been me…’ she added softly.
Then she gave herself a little shake, and the conversation turned back to cheerful observations about adorable 4-year-old customers. When the mom and boy started on their way out, she waved cheerfully, ‘Bye, Friend! Be sure to eat the yellow ones!’ And she moved up to the checker. I looked behind me and the whole line was smiling at the exchange.
Here was a woman bearing a hidden pain, but she gave back joy, compassion and kindness to everyone around her. We can learn from her example. As you go about your day look around and behind you, and see what simple kindness you can leave in your wake.
Remember everyone has story.
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