I was feverishly chucking my groceries onto the conveyor belt today at ALDI, while my -month-old son was screaming in stereo. (If you are an ALDI shopper, you know how insanely fast the cashiers scan your items.) I felt everyone’s eyes behind me as I was holding the binky in my son’s mouth with one hand, and grasping at my groceries with the other.
My 4-year-old daughter was trying to “help” me by reaching into the shopping cart (except that she’s too short to reach the groceries, but so fiercely determined, that she was balancing on the edge of the cart on her stomach, and almost falling headfirst into the cart.) “Let Mommy do it!” I kept saying as she was grabbing all the glass jars of salsa and marinara sauce, and nearly dropping them onto the floor.
Meanwhile, my son continued screaming. I kept telling myself to just keep calm. This was my first grocery shopping trip with two children. And it was everything I pictured in my nightmares.
Until she saw me.
I don’t know where she came from. But she came.
I had just pulled our massive parade-float of a shopping cart over to the counter, and I was trying to bag my groceries with one hand and jamming the binky in my son’s mouth with the other. Neither was effective.
He kept on wailing. And I felt I was beginning to perspire as I was saying, “Shhhh,” and wiggling the binky into his mouth. The entire store could hear us.
As the soundtrack of baby screams continued, my daughter was upset and whining because I wasn’t letting her “beep” all the groceries before putting them into the bags. (She likes to pretend she’s the cashier. Even at the worst times.)
I looked up out the window into the parking lot to see that it was snowing…sideways. The wind was blowing hard, and it was nasty out.
But then she came. This woman.
I didn’t see her, but…
She saw me.
She saw me flustered, trying to be under control, and visibly struggling. (Audibly struggling…as the wailing continued.)
She came over to me and said, “What can I do to help you?” And something about the way she said it, I knew she meant it.
I recognized her as the friend of one of my friend’s. I didn’t know her name, but I had seen her before maybe at a cookie exchange, or birthday party.
“I can do anything,” she said.
She quickly came over and helped me bag up the rest of my groceries. She talked sweetly to my daughter. And she said, “What else can I do?”
“Thanks so much. We’re okay,” I told her. Trying to convince myself we were, as I looked out into the parking lot and blowing snow. And I almost left right then, but hesitated. There was something I saw in her face, something you don’t see every day:
And I knew, I could let her help me. That she actually wanted to help me.
And I knew I could trust her. (Because she was my friend’s friend…and at that moment, it was enough.)
So I said, “Can you stay with my daughter and cart while I pull my car up?”
“Of course,” she said with a smile.
She knelt down and smiled at my daughter, and began showing her pictures of her kids on her phone. (Because she was a Mommy, too.) And I’m not sure, but I wonder if she may have had a day like this once.
I left the store carrying my son out to the car in this impromptu blizzard and pulled up as quickly as I could. Part me felt crazy, I couldn’t believe I was doing this. But I was desperate.
When I went back in the store she was still knelt down with my daughter showing her pictures on her phone. I thanked her as best as I could, and we left.
I had managed to keep my composure in the grocery store, and even when I was putting away my cart back to get my quarter back. But as I drove home, the tears came.
I began the ugly cry. Partly because of all the pent-up frustration I had felt in the store, but mostly because of what this woman had done for me. That she just jumped in, all hands on deck, ready to do anything for me. I remembered her words,
“What can I do to help you?”
“I can do anything.”
There is an African Zulu greeting I have heard of, “Sawubona.”
It means, “I see you.”
I see you 2
She was just one woman, but she saw me. She saw me frantically juggling my groceries, and the binky bouncing out of my hand, the crying newborn, and the daughter trying to “beep” all the groceries, and nearly breaking them.
She could have closed her eyes.
But she opened them.
She could have walked on by. But she stopped.
She saw me.
She could have smiled, and said, “Been there!” (Which would have still been nice.)
But she went the extra mile. She got low, to show me kindness.
And there is a huge difference between being nice.
And being kind.
Niceness is safe, but real kindness is risky.
Kindness isn’t just a smile. But it’s words, and it’s heart, and it’s hands — when you need them.
And she was kind.
She didn’t just say it. She showed it.
She simply saw a very messy situation, and turned it into a beautiful one. With kindness.
I think she did exactly what Jesus would have done if He were standing in ALDI’s today. And the more I think about it, the more I realize He was there. In her.
She literally lived out, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
I think here in the midst of suburbia, we sometimes don’t know how to be kind. We are afraid to ask someone if we can help because we are afraid of offending someone. We are afraid of creating an awkward situation.
But I don’t think Jesus intended it to be as hard as we make it.
Maybe it’s as simple as saying:
I see you.
Or, in other words:
“What can I do to help you?”
“I can do anything