Thoughts on Kindness: 40 Days of Grace

“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.

ID-100152654Sometimes, 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.

……….

This is reposted from February 2012 as part of

40DaysofGraceLogo

You can see all of the 40 Days of Grace posts
here on the Five Kids blog and here on Facebook.

……….

If you have a story of kindness to or from a stranger, please share. In fact, I can’t imagine anything I’d like to hear more. Unless you’re offering to babysit for a couple weeks and comp me a trip to Hawaii; in that case, feel free to use that as your Kindness to a Stranger story. I’m open. 😉

……….

Blue Balloon image credit artur84 via freedigitalimages.net

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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.
21 comments
  1. We recently had an incredible encounter with the kindness of a stranger at a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game. Despite the stress of bringing my three young children to the ballpark, a young man sitting in front of us went out of his way to be kind to us and engage with my kids and even took it upon himself to encourage my oldest son to head down to the dugout every inning to try to get a game ball. When his efforts failed, he went up to the concourse and, unbeknownst to us, purchase a souvenir baseball which he presented to my son at the end of the game. It was such a simple and touching act that my son will never forget! I wrote a blog post about it when I got home as a way of thanking this “mystery man” for his kindness and it went viral within 24 hours. It ended up being a wonderful gift because our experience brought smiles to the faces of so many and inspired people to just be kind to one another!

    You can read about it here! http://www.thearenaupdate.com/2013/08/the-mystery-man-at-miller-park.html

  2. These comments are so important, to give and receive, but only when they’re heartfelt and sincere. Shortly after returning to work after having my first baby I was shopping for work, feeling dumpy, was wearing the glasses I hate, didn’t have a chance to wash my hair that morning…and as I was loading my purchases in the car a man walked up and said “Hi, I wanted to tell you you’re very pretty.” I think I said, “Oh, thank you. That’s very nice to hear.” It was the most fabulous compliment I could have received in that moment. I paid it forward by telling a random woman in an elevator that she was ROCKIN’ her outfit, something I couldn’t see myself ever wearing, because she was and it looked really good on her. = )

  3. When i was in 7th grade, I can remember a bunch of girls teasing me about the outfit I was wearing. Already at an awkward stage, I remember feeling trapped and alone and soo embarrassed. Then one girl stepped up and said loudly that she liked my outfit and I looked nice. Silence. No one, including myself, could believe she had dared to contradict the crowd! I barely knew her but I wanted to be her friend. Amazingly, we did become close friends. Thank goodness for the time I was able to spend with her and laugh and grow as she died our senior year. I will never forget my angel Alison and I will never forget that day. Words matter more that we imagine. Hurtful, negative, critical words come out so easily, before we even have a chance to censor them. I want my mouth to be full of kind, joyful, and loving words but boy, somedays it is hard.

  4. On my 24th birthday I was shopping for my dinner at a farmer’s market. I had recently moved to a new city far from my friends and family and was recovering from a particularly upsetting break-up with someone who was not who he pretended to be. I was quite lonely and had become very good at putting up walls. I had an air around me that said, “leave me alone. I am not open. I have nothing to give.”while I was shopping a guy around my age handed me a rose that he bought from a vendor at the market and said, “this is for you. You are beautiful.” With a smile I said, “thank you!! It’s my birthday!” He said, “happy birthday!” And walked away. There was no- can I have your number? Let’s grab a drink. Where can I find you again? There was nothing to indicate he wanted or expected anything in return. I was flattered and in awe of his kindness. It softened me a bit and reminded me that most all people are kind and good. It made my day.

  5. […] Thoughts on Kindness: 40 Days of Grace at Five Kids Is A Lot of Kids – Be nice to people. […]

  6. My husband showed me your blog recently after finding the cool Landry storage system you have… He didn’t realise it was a God thing … We have three foster boys under 7 and are about to birth our 1st after many years trying… So I hear your sentiments of your heart … Cause I adore my boys and don’t want to feel like “the foster children” . I know your blog is on kindness … And I know how beautiful that can be … How memorable … I hope i show kindness that way when I felt lead and also with intention to strangers and to my family :):) so thanks so much for your honesty meeting people that foster first is so encouraging and I love reading about your life and experiences 🙂

    1. I have to admit that I’m on of those people who perhaps inappropriately compliments strangers, especially woman; especially when they seem like they could use a good word.
      I don’t know why I do it exactly, except I feel like they need it and I want to do it. I’m a very positive person so if someone was unhappy that I complimented them (especially those ladies who were not ‘done up’ when I said true compliments) I never picked up on it.
      I don’t think we’re told enough in our society that we’re pretty yet we are bombarded constantly to be unrealistically thin , rich, successful, etc. I don’t know if you’re person thinks about you anymore, but how cool it is to me to see that perhaps someone I’ve complimented really remembered it long after. I think we should all try and share a smile, at least once a day, and if we can do more, great. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story.

  7. 6 years ago I had a kindergartner and a 3 year old. Because the school didn’t have a pull-through system to pick up children we had to park, sometimes a block or two away, and walk to the school to pick him up at dismissal time. The 3 year old was NOT a fan of having to walk, but at a solid 40 pounds he was too big to carry for long. Day after day, snow, rain, cold, we’d have to park and walk to the exit door. Most days it took everything within me to coax the 3 year old along. Usually with him screaming. One day he had enough, and I had enough. He melted into a screaming mess and I melted into tears, got to the exit door and just sat down and held him and cried. A mom I didn’t really know sat down next to me and just rubbed my shoulder and said ‘It’s ok. It’s hard. It will get better.’ I’ve never forgotten that. Every now and then I see her around…redistricting put our kids in different schools. Someday I wish I could work up the nerve to tell her how much that meant to me.

  8. Great post. It is nice to hear how seemingly small things can really make a difference in the world. 🙂

  9. A similar story:
    I never had a lot of self-esteem. As a young teenager, I felt fat and clumsy and pimply and sweaty and ugly. We were visiting a church where I had a huge crush on a boy who worshiped there, and didn’t feel like “enough.” An older woman came up to me and I smiled a hello, and she said that I had the most beautiful smile. That was probably almost 40 years ago, and like you, I can remember that moment like it was yesterday. Incidentally, though, that didn’t “fix” my self-esteem. As adults, I connected with that popular boy from years ago, and he admitted that he’d had a huge crush on me as well. Oh, the time we waste not loving ourselves! It’s only now when I look back at pictures of myself as a teen and young adult that I can see a pretty me. Love yourself.

  10. The post and the comments left me in tears. Are you planning to do an “extreme kindness from friends & family” post? Because I’ve got a couple of doozies for that category!

  11. Once upon a time I was a 24 year old mother with 3 kids under 3. I took all 3 to our local health department to discuss my newborn’s slow weight gain with the nutritionist. I was exhausted, sleep deprived, and anxious. We spent an incredibly long time waiting while I tried to keep a newborn, a toddler, and a preschooler happy. By the time we met with the nutritionist, we were DONE. I don’t remember anything that we talked about that day. I DO remember bouncing a crying baby while wrangling crayons away from my wall-scribbling son, and reminding my daughter that it still wasn’t her turn to talk. But, more than anything I remember that at the end of the visit the worker said to me, “your children are so sweet, and you are so kind and patient with them, you are a good mom.” I cried in the parking lot and all the way home. That bit of validation helped me more than that lady could ever know. Almost 20 years later I still remember it so clearly. And because of that one incident I am a kinder person. I tell people what I think when a nice thought pops into my head, and I tell my kids that saying something nice to someone doesn’t cost you anything but it can make a world of difference to someone else.

  12. After what felt like the millionth “oh, you have your hands full” on a trip to Costco with all of my littles, one lady stopped me and said something different.
    After I’d checked out she said something more like “you are blessed to have such a full heart”. And I don’t remember the exact words being in my baby brain fog, but I definitely remember the place and vaguely her face and the fact that she was being thankful with/for me for all my children rather than treating them as a nuisance or something that keeps me busy.
    Just a small perspective change in the words, but a huge one in the intention!

  13. Last Valentine’s Day, we had a bunch of those little foam crafts (you know the ones, from Michaels) that we’d been making for weeks just as something to do. On the spur of the moment, we gathered them up, drove down the street to the grocery store (where we were already headed to buy some flowers for my mom), and handed them out to a bunch of the older ladies who were walking around by themselves in the produce section. My 3-year-old son had a blast doing it, and we were able to bring some sunshine to a whole bunch of people on a rainy Valentine’s Day, myself included.

  14. A few years ago I was on a walk to the library when I saw a dad outside playing with his 2 little girls, maybe 2 & 4 years old. As I got closer one of the little girls, the 2 year old, looked at me and stopped playing, I looked at the dad and he smiled. When I was in front of the girl, I crouched down and smiled and said hello. She walked right up to me and put her arms around my neck. I patted her on the back with one hand. She stepped back and then forward and hugged me again, then ran for her dad. He and I smiled at each other again and I went to the library with a much lighter heart.

    I was on sick leave from work at the time and was having a very difficult time rebuilding my physical and emotional strength. That little girl was the very best medicine.

  15. When I was little I had dinner at a restaurant with my parents and four siblings. There was another family sitting next to us with a toddler who was having trouble sitting through the meal, so my siblings and I were entertaining her a bit. They finished up and left before we did. When my father asked for the bill, the server told us our meal was paid for by that family. He was so touched by that gesture that I never forgot it.

    A few years ago my own husband and kids were at a restaurant, sitting nearby a party with 5 siblings. My father had died not long before this, and it was clear that now was the time for us to continue the gesture started 40 years ago. We paid both bills and left with my heart singing.

  16. Thank you for sharing that special moment, it really touched me. I often notice nice things about others, but have been far to shy to say anything. Why is it so easy to compliment a random child in the store, but nearly impossible if it is an adult? I once had a woman come up to me in the store and say “I’ve been enjoying hearing you with your little boy for the last few minuets, you are a great Mom”. I have gone back to that moment over and over again in my head. My son was only about 16 months, at the time we didn’t know the challenges that were ahead. I didn’t know just how much my ability to be a ‘great mom’ would be tested. As time went on and we faced first an Autism diagnosis, and then the addition of generalized anxiety and ADHD, seeing my sweet happy son become angry, depressed, and abusive. I’ve held tight to that moment. If only she knew just how much it meant….

  17. One story for me that has stuck with me over the years is from back when I was in High School. I had a boy hold open the door for me. He smiled at me and told me that I was good enough to go through that door first. It helped that it was a boy that I really liked, but it was also an awaking moment for me. I realized that I was worth something, and others could see it, sometimes better than I could. I have had countless other moment in my life when someone has simply smiled or made a nice comment, or even invite me to their home when they barely knew me. It never ceases to amaze me at how brave all these people are. I think a lot of those things, but I don’t speak them often enough. Here is to all those wonderful, brave souls!

  18. I had given birth just a week or so before, and it was all in the days immediately following September 11th. I was outside while my baby girl slept, and was attempting to clean the garage (why? why would a new mom choose this task? I must have been on a nesting high). A woman came along and mistakingly thought (just because there were things strewn for miles across the front lawn) I was having a garage sale. After setting her straight, I invited her to take a few things she was looking at. At some point I shared having a newborn, and we both were feeling the weight of new life, terrorism and all that had been lost. She thanked me for the items she had taken, and drove away.

    A few minutes later I was back to work, and her car pulled up again. Curious, I walked out to meet her. She told me how God was not leaving her alone about coming back and praying for me. She gathered me up in her arms, and prayed over me….for calm….for my children….for the world.

    How much courage did it take to drive back to my house because God told her to? How awesome of God do we have who will use people like to us share his love and his mercy? I will never forget her, even though I never knew her name.

  19. This is a lovely story, Beth. I don’t know if I can think of a specific example of strangers acting kindly, probably because I feel like that happens quite a bit. Maybe it’s the rarified air of Newberg, but people seem downright charitable. But your story has challenged me to make more efforts to be kind to others today. Thank you.

  20. The first day of school I was carrying a large box of student agenda books from the office to my classroom. A kid I’d never seen before ran up and offered to carry the box back to my room for me. It was very sweet. So to all the people who wonder how on Earth I can teach middle school (and I’ll admit, I wonder it too occasionally), that’s why. Because among the thirteen-year-old insanity, kindness creeps through too.

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