On Kindness

“Excuse me,” said the stranger as she stopped me in the canned food aisle at the grocery store, “I’m sorry to bother you.”

“Hi,” I replied, and I smiled at her because she seemed nervous.

“I just wanted to tell you, you’re very pretty.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “Uh… thank you. What a nice thing to say.”

And then she moved on. And then I moved on. And then I never saw her again.

……….

Even though it happened six years ago, I remember it precisely.

I remember what I was wearing and the way my jacket pulled just a little too tightly across my shoulders.

I remember wondering if I would ever have a successful pregnancy.

I remember being afraid that, if I did grow a baby, my three children who grew in other women’s wombs might question their place in my heart. I remember thinking that I was selfish to keep gnawing at that baby dream.

I remember thinking that my shoes were too clunky and so was my body.

I remember that the floor was sticky and that I was in hurry.

I remember that my bucket was full of doubt and worry and inadequacy.

“Excuse me,” said the stranger as she stopped me in the canned food aisle at the grocery store, “I’m sorry to bother you.”

“Hi,” I replied, and I smiled at her because she seemed nervous.

“I just wanted to tell you, you’re very pretty.”

“Oh,” I said, surprised. “Uh… thank you. What a nice thing to say.”

And then she moved on. And then I moved on. And then I never saw her again.

But I think about her all the time.

I wonder about her.

I wonder if she says random, kind things to strangers often? Or if, like me, she only does it when she feels compelled by the strange inner voice?

I wonder if she felt exposed and a little stupid when she walked away from my lackluster response.

I wonder if she questioned whether I was offended by “pretty” and if I wanted to chide her about equality and the expectations of women in our culture.

I wonder if she noticed the scars on my face from the accident I had when I was a child.

I wonder if she thinks it was worth it to put herself out there.

I wonder if she knows that I think about her kindness still, six years later.

Sometimes, we throw small bits of grace and compassion out into the world and they float away like helium balloons so far that we don’t know what becomes of them. Or we put in the hard work, or we wipe the wee bottoms, or we cook the twelve-thousandth dinner, or we tell our baby girls and boys that we love them and love them, or we smile at a stranger, or we feel compelled to scoop out chunks of our hearts and leave them in the canned food aisle at the grocery store.

We give those moments and then they’re gone. And it’s OK because they were meant to be given.

But sometimes, someone hangs on. We don’t know to which moments. We don’t know to which kindnesses. It’s simply our job to keep making more balloons.

I own a piece of a stranger’s heart. I wish I could tell her how very much I cherish it. And I wish she knew that she has mine.

 

Next Post
Previous Post

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
18 comments
  1. I read this beautiful story and think how many holes have I left in peoples heart because of my selfish or angry attitude, because my agenda was more important. Makes me think I want to be like her taking time to notice those around and leave a part of Christ’s heart disguised as mine.

    1. Wanting divine compassion to be the leader? Yes. This. Me, too.

  2. <3 <3 <3

  3. what a sweet story! isn’t it amazing what we carry with us? i have a memory like that one, but also one that is quite the opposite. both i think of all.the.time. i read recently about someone who made it their new year’s resolution to give someone a compliment every single day. strangers or otherwise. after reading this post i think i’ll join her.

    have a lovely day, beautiful you!

    1. I’d love to hear more about your compliment-a-day experience!

      Sending lovely day wishes right back at ya!

  4. What a beautiful piece — you made me cry! I had a similar experience in a Panera at least six years ago. I have always wondered if that woman was an angel. Bless you.

  5. Thank you Beth. Love your words and the inspiration it brings us all. You’re a special ‘mama’ with a special family. xx

  6. What a flippin’ great post.

    xx-Z

  7. How wonderful! I’m always tempted to compliment people for various things, but I’m waaaaay too shy. Maybe I should, though…it might just lift someone’s spirit again and again! So glad you had this experience. Have you ever ‘paid it forward’?

    1. I have paid it forward. Many times with lots of socially awkward compliments to strangers. And I always feel vulnerable and weird. I wish I felt empowered and bold, instead. But I don’t. So it’s important to me to remember how desperately grateful I am for every time someone says I’m doing a good job with my kids or that I don’t look heinous in public. 😉 Retelling stories like this one helps me remember that it IS worth it to keep putting myself out there, and that it’s also OK to never know what becomes of those moments. Be bold. Be brave. Be kind. Those are my goals.

  8. I believe God knows what we need, when we need it. And sometimes he puts certain people in our path for a reason. Like in the canned food aisle in the grocery store.

  9. Gorgeous. Encouragement is so important, isn’t it. What a lovely reminder to keep making balloons! Thankyou, Beth. And you are (would put that word in italics but can’t figure out how to do it on a Mac – regrettable lack of geekery) very pretty!

    Have a great week!

    xxx

    1. Thanks, Fiona. You’re the best.
      x

      FYI – regrettable lack of geekery is my new favorite phrase. Heh.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.