My usual grocery trip this morning was anything but usual.
There were four lines open, four registers with glowing beacons welcoming customers.
But only one register had a line.
Employees kept trying to persuade the queued customers to relocate, to shift a few feet to the right or left in order to shave ten or fifteen minutes off their wait.
And when they turned their faces towards me, I could the tears in their eyes.
You see, this was not a usual day.
This was Mary’s last day.
I met Mary almost three years ago when I moved and first visited that store. It was just chance, that first meeting, her register was open and the line was short. Her smile that day was genuine. Her “How are you?” was more than just a memorized line uttered for the benefit of management. Her gaze alternated between the groceries she scanned and the customers she served.
That was chance. The rest was intentional. My grocery trips were timed around Mary’s hours. I looked forward to our weekly visits. Our friendship was built in ten minutes a week, milestones exchanged and stories told over produce weighed and coupons scanned. We learned to read each other, able to tell at a glance what kind of a day the other was having. She was one of the first to learn of my new marriage and one of the first to recognize when I was headed for work overload. I learned of her struggles and triumphs as we dialoged and celebrated.
Yet, in many ways, we remain strangers, limited by the constraints of the environment where we rendezvous.
But some of the most important people in my life have been relative strangers.
Some of the most touching kindness has come from people I barely know.
From the policeman that arrested my ex husband.
To the gas station clerk that frequently comped my morning coffee during that year of tear-stained cheeks.
People that touched my life more than they will ever know.
We have expectations of kindness when it comes to friends and family. When the expectation is met, we are satisfied but not surprised.
Yet with strangers, we lead with no expectations. So when they reach out with kindness, it is even more remarkable.
A hand extended out of compassion rather than obligation.
So thank the Marys in your life and strive to be the Mary for someone else.
Forget what your mother taught you. Life is better when we take candy from strangers.