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Stephanie Hill/The Lawrence Herald

Small acts of kindness -- like being patient with stressed shoppers, holding a door for a stranger, or even wearing a mask to protect others from illness -- have a way of coming back to your life.

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” — Mother Teresa

“Act with kindness, but do not expect gratitude.” — Confucius

Oh no, not again. Surely, my memory is mistaken.

I stood patiently. Waiting my turn to enter the aisle. I needed an item directly in front of a man standing in the middle of the aisle examining all of the choices. I get it. Looking at all of the available choices (or alternate choices, if your favorite is unavailable) can be overwhelming. Plus, add in the new directional rules that are in effect at some stores as well as shortages of certain items, shopping can now take more time than ever.

“What’s your problem?”

Oh, no, here we go again. It. Is. The. Same. Man.

“I’m just waiting. Take your time,” and I added a smile, but then realized, unless I was also smiling with my eyes, he couldn’t see my mouth due to my mask.

That’s when I noticed he wasn’t wearing a mask, nor gloves as I am used to doing when now going out to shop. However, wearing personal protective gear is a choice. I get, honor, and respect personal choice. My own choice stems from my desire to err on the side of caution. Regardless, everyone views things differently.

“Well, here you go,” he said in a voice rich with sarcasm as he feigned a gallant bow extending an arm in a sweeping gesture.

Oh boy, apparently, he thought I was waiting to go through and past him. Why didn’t I communicate more effectively?

“It’s OK. I can wait.”

Again, I try to smile, but of course, it’s not visible.

That’s when it happened. The very thing for which I was afraid. Expletives exploded from his mouth, his face contorted into a fiery red emoji-worthy expression. He tried to march past me, saw there wasn’t any room, said some more finely selected words, and stomped around a display that was arranged in the center of an aisle.

I am fairly certain this was the same man who. only three weeks ago, I had encountered in this same store. At that time, he was offended, I think, because I stepped aside to let him pass six feet away from me, despite the fact he was not following the store’s directional arrows. He took one long look at me then and about-faced with a nearly purple visage, spewing curse words for all to hear.

This time, I momentarily froze, shaken once more by the negative emotional energy left in his wake. It was almost as if I wanted to let his surrounding Pig-pen-like dark cloud of anger dissipate before I walked on.

Later, as I moved through the store, I kept encountering a woman who appeared to be just off work based upon her tired, but kind, eyes, scrubs, and hospital lanyard. It always seemed as if wherever I pushed my cart, she ended up right behind me waiting as I made my choice and moved on. She never said a word, never indicated a hint of impatience.

In the freezer section, I was taking an exceptionally long time as I thoroughly searched for bags of frozen chopped peppers and onions, which had not been in stock for weeks. Not finding them, I slid down to the next set of freezer doors to grab a few bags of frozen vegetables that were in stock. That’s when I noticed the same woman was behind me.

“I am so sorry if I was holding you up,” I sincerely stated.

“No, no, no. Not at all. In fact, I was going to offer to hand something to you in case it was out of reach.”

Of course she’s significantly taller than me.

“Aw, thank you, but no. There’s nothing. They’ve been out of frozen chopped peppers and onions for weeks now. I was just double checking to make sure I wasn’t overlooking them.”

We chatted a few more minutes, both of us keep a safe distance, but still continuing to shop.

“Listen, just so you know, I figure it like this. I’m going to let you take your time picking out what you need because I sure plan to take my time when it’s my turn.”

Exchanging polite farewells, I moved on and wrapped up my shopping.

Some days later, I reflected on the two experiences within the context of COVID-19. The man’s anger, despite the fact I did not know him, had bothered me. It was an irrational response, I know, but I tend to struggle with shaking off any form of strong emotion, but especially those of a negative nature. However, the unknown woman’s words were like the sip of nice wine or bite of good chocolate at the end of a hard day — you don’t need or want a lot — just enough to calm the nerves.

Which led me to the renewed lesson of the power of words. Kind words, spoken or written, are never wasted. Never. In fact, my mom has often advised me to etch sweetly spoken words — or any positive moment for that matter — into my heart’s memory for those times when there seems to be void.

Unfortunately, my encounters with this man most likely reflect his level of frustration and/or anger at the COVID-19 situation. Perhaps he has lost his job, is isolated from loved ones and/or friends, and he doesn’t have an outlet — a viable way to deal with his disappointment. Of course, he could be reacting to any number of things, and I just happen to be in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Bottom line, I don’t know his story, but he is clearly suffering some form of anguish, and I sincerely hope some form of ease enters his life — preferably before I encounter him again.

About a month ago, my eighth-grade students and I considered a quote from a novel that stated, “Reciprocity is not mandatory.” These words refer to an idea that when giving a gift, one should give it freely without any expectations. Thus, my students and I, through virtual means, discussed the notion of whether or not it is possible to give without expectations. It was a lively debate and inspired thoughtfully written responses which ran the gamut of opinions.

Personally, I fall on the side of freely giving simple acts of kindness without expectations. Smile at a stranger. Thank the employees who help you check-out groceries. Hold the door for a person whose hands are loaded. Offer heart-felt compliments. Help an elderly/diabled (or short) person grab something from a top shelf or rack. Call or text a loved one. Write a letter. Send a card. There are so many free, nearly free, or inexpensive ways to spread kindness.

It is my sincere belief that while reciprocity is not mandatory — eventually, all that goodness you put out in the world makes its way back to you in some form — even if you don’t recognize its original source. Thus, don’t let the negative behavior of some override the good that is out there because IT. IS. THERE. It’s like glitter.

Remember making a craft with glitter in school? Hours, even days, later, you could still find a bit of sparkle in the darndest places. That’s what kindness is like. And, if you don’t see it, then by golly get out your proverbial bottle of kindness glitter and start sprinkling bits of it here and there. Just like that glitter from that long-ago art project, you’ll soon find a few random sparkles returning right back to you in the most unpredictable ways.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and a teacher at St. Joseph Catholic School in Huntington. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net. Or you can check out her website, stephsimply.com.

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