As I approached the counter looking for someone to help me locate a size for a gift I needed, I noticed a tiny elderly lady behind the counter smiling and chatting away with customers. With perfectly coiffed grey hair and sensible shoes that spoke to the long days on your feet working retail, I immediately thought of my Auntie Nina.
My aunt spent most of her life working long days in retail and then would come home and make a delicious supper, wash, iron and clean the house. I knew the toll retail takes on not only your body, but also on your mind dealing with people who are unhappy or rude.
As I looked at this little lady I wondered what twist had her working retail this late in her life. I felt bad for her and wondered to myself, is it was the insurance, or maybe social security didn’t cover all her expenses or possibly her prescription costs were too much and she needed the extra money.
You see I believe that people are put in your path for a reason. Not every person and maybe not every single encounter, but if you are aware of it calling to you, you can feel inside when there is a purpose beyond the chance meeting.
As we walked together to look for the size I needed I began gently probing, just a few questions about how hard it was working retail and being on your feet all day, but she was having no part in my negativity and just answered with a laugh and it’s not so bad.
I was not deterred because sometimes the toughest nuts to crack have the best parts hidden inside behind a tough exterior is often a story and I was on the case.
“Have you always worked retail?”
“No not until recently,” ah there it was something happened and she needed to go back to work. “Do you have family here?” I asked
“Yes, quite a large family,” that is it! She is helping to support a family, maybe someone is out of work. And then one final question before we reached the check out,
“Why did you pick retail when you needed to go back to work?” Her reply,
“Oh I didn’t need to get a job, the people who shop here needed me.”
“I am sorry I don’t understand, you mean the store needed help?”
“No the people, there are so many people who shop here that are so unhappy, they complain and worry about things that aren’t all that important and I think I can help them and maybe make their day better”.
Sometimes a chance encounter happens to allow you to help someone, as was the case this week with a New York City Police Officer who spent seventy-five dollars of his own money to buy socks and shoes for a homeless man with no thought of becoming a symbol of humanity in a world that can sometimes feel cruelly inhumane. Other times it is to teach you something, as was the case in my meeting Doris, you see she was sent for me.
I often feel overwhelmed that I am not doing enough really big things to help people in need. I know now that Doris was sent to me because she restored something in my heart that I was questioning. She and the officer in New York reaffirmed that many times it is not only the big things that make a difference but the small things, and that by refusing to do what is easiest, joining in being unhappy or simply looking away when you see someone who needs help, you can actually make a difference in the world even if it just as simple as making someone’s day a little better.
It is not easy when you have a grand illusion to make the world a better place, and it is not simple to convince others that what you dream of; love, compassion and kindness for the world is possible. It is much easier to match the harshness of the world with equal or greater harshness. You hurt me so that gives me the right to hurt you, you were mean to me so I can be mean to you and you were rude and short with me so I must do the same because doing anything else would be letting you win.
I think of a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…” My little friend Doris was doing her part by simply refusing to embrace the “an eye for an eye” mentality.
When we match someone who is rude and we respond angrily we don’t win at all, we lose. We become someone who we would never want to be and we certainly don’t change anyone for the better, we simply perpetuate the cycle.
Something as small as treating someone kindly that has been harsh with you or buying someone a pair of shoes that has no shoes are all little things, but maybe in the end are bigger than we realize. The shoe story went viral because someone posted the photo that was taken of the officer helping the shoe-less man. His simple kindness was caught for the world to see, and maybe just maybe if some in need crosses your path you will stop to help, thinking of the police officer. I am sure that Doris never imagined when she waited on me that I would be sharing her story of simple kindness with all of you.
So let’s all try for the remainder of this year and into the new year to not allowing a harsh word to elicit a harsh word in retort, instead let’s allow harshness to beget simple kindness and hurtful actions to elicit a compassionate response. I think ultimately this small change in each of us will make the world a better place. We may never know the impact it will have on others or the lives we will inspire as the ripple of simple kindness reaches far beyond what our eyes will ever see and eventually will change the world.