“It costs absolutely nothing to be kind,” Mama would tell me when I was younger.
Those words have stayed with me most of my life, and even when I’ve had moments where my temper has gotten the best of me, I’ve always tried to choose kindness.
Tried being the operative word here.
One thing I’ve learned over the last few years is that not everyone was taught that kindness matters. Or maybe they did but the lesson was forgotten along the way.
There’s been so much division, so much hate. For some, expressing that hate is a lot easier than extending kindness. Common niceties seem to be far fleeting.
We’ve been so focused on what separates us that we’ve stopped seeing each other as our fellow man, and in doing so, we’ve hardened our hearts.
This has been on my mind a lot recently, particularly last month as we went through the holidays.
Instead of things being festive and full of cheer, a shadow of grief was cast on the holidays. I missed hearing music and seeing people smile at strangers in the stores. It was as if as a community, our heartbeat had stopped and kindness was no longer practiced.
I missed that. Those small interactions let you know we weren’t so different and that overall, humanity was good, kind, and true.
As I stood in the checkout line with my groceries, I watched the other people in the store and it struck me how different the interactions were.
Being an introvert, I tend to people watch quite often. I noticed those subtle cues of how people seemed almost on the defensive as if they were waiting for someone to be rude or say something to them. It didn’t matter who they were if they were masked or unmasked, or their age. People seemed to be anticipating unkindness in some form.
It made me sad.
Not that long ago, people seemed to be a bit kinder, softer, with their hearts more open to others. But going through a collective trauma can change a person and a group of people, too. I kind of feel that’s largely what has happened.
We’ve all been changed so much by what’s happened…and not in good ways either.
While my groceries were being scanned, a man got in line behind me.
Just from a first glance, he seemed like he would be a bit gruff. He wasn’t smiling. He didn’t seem happy.
It then hit me.
I had no idea what he may have been going through at that moment and I was judging him, the same way I thought people were judging others.
I was standing there, carrying a tremendous amount of grief and worry myself, but not sharing it with strangers around me. I was trying my best to hold on. What if this man was doing the same?
“I’m so sorry,” the cashier interrupted my thoughts. “I’ve got to get change.”
I heard the man behind me let out a deep breath.
“I’m sorry,” I apologized, turning to look at him. “I should have a warning sign that whoever gets behind me in line should expect some kind of delay.”
“It’s fine,” he said with a nod.
His tone was abrupt so I didn’t want to bother him any further.
I glanced up to the customer service desk and saw my cashier was having to wait behind other cashiers ahead of him.
“It’s awfully warm for this time of year, isn’t it?” the man offered up as conversation.
“It is,” I agreed. “I hope we get some cooler weather soon. It didn’t feel like Christmas when it was so hot.”
“No, it didn’t,” he said, shaking his head. “Did you have a good holiday?”
I nodded even though mine had been sad. “I did. How about you?”
He nodded. “I did.”
I wondered if he was hiding some sadness behind his words as I was.
“You ready for New Year’s?” he continued.
“I’ve got collards and peas, so I’m as ready as I can be,” I said. “I’m just ready for this year to be over.”
The man nodded slowly. “I am, too.” He paused. “I hope this coming year is going to bring some peace.” He paused again. “Things have been so out of whack lately. We need peace. You know?”
“Yes, we do,” I agreed.
On the outside, he may have looked like he would have been a bit rough around the edges, but inside, he was wanting the same thing I was. Some peace, some kindness, some healing.
The cashier returned with my change and counted it back to me as he handed me the receipt.
As I started to push my buggy away from the line, I turned back to the man at the same time he was turning towards me.
“I hope this year is good to you,” I said.
He smiled a genuine, gentle smile. “I hope this year’s good to you, too, ma’am. I really do.”
Just a few brief words, a small exchange of kindness, that somehow reminded me that maybe we will be OK after all.
Sudie Crouch is an award-winning humor columnist residing in the North Georgia Mountains among the bears, deer, and possibly Sasquatch. You can connect with her on Facebook at Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Humor, and Deep-Fried Wisdom. Her recently published book, ‘Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Wisdom, and Deep-Fried Humor’ is available in paperback and Kindle download on Amazon.