The conventional view of kindness is for one person to be kind to another, but not all acts of kindness are one way; sometimes in an act of generosity or kindness, we both win and the world becomes a tiny bit brighter and warmer. Living in modern times is not always a picnic. For all the modern conveniences, such as planet-wide communications and little luxuries, the world can be a cold and lonely place. It was certainly true for me, despite living in the tropics and having every material possession, I was lonely: the sort of loneliness that had me checking my emails and social sites for any trace of contact from a friend or even an acquaintance. I craved outreach with anybody really, just to feel that I was connected in some way to somebody. I guess I'm lucky because I don't tend to sit and ruminate when I’m feeling miserable. Rather, I'm the sort that is levered out of his chair and driven out into the world, which is a good start. But, of course, people are generally suspicious of the motives of a stranger who just walks up and starts talking. For those of us who are relaxed and outgoing, this sort of thing is undoubtedly no problem, but for that 90 % that are more lacking in the social graces, it can be a daily mountain that is too steep to climb.
That is where supermarkets come in (you were wondering where this was going, weren’t you?). Supermarkets are the home of that most effective of icebreakers: shared goals. It turned out to be so easy: every time I found myself standing next to someone at the isles, I would simply talk to them about what we were buying and why. I had a great conversation with a fellow about chili sauce and how it was the missing ingredient in spaghetti bolognese. I found a nice lady to help me pick the best and most ripe bananas and chatted about how fruit was so easy to get and of good quality here in Australia; she spoke of how hard it was when she was growing up in Europe after the war. My daughter and I got some great advice from a teenage girl who turned out to be an expert on cheesecakes; the girls ended up sharing fond reminiscences about great cheesecakes that they have met. Many people have tattoos around here and I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t want to tell the story behind the ink. And imagine my surprise when I found out the lady with an Indian accent actually turned out to be from Bangladesh.
Cashiers have been added into the mix now, too. They have to ask me how I am as part of their job, but I don’t have to reply, "I’m fine, thanks,” in a dutiful monotone. Instead, I ask them how the shift is going, and what they would be doing if they weren’t working a 9-day roster.
I thought that people would be reluctant to talk, and a few are, but for the most part, it has been ridiculously easy. Most people have been all too happy to stop and chat. If I didn’t know better, I could almost believe that other people are also lonely and aching for the world to see them as human-beings rather than just moveable scenery. I realize that this idea of chatting with people in the supermarket seems so simple. Maybe it is, but for a small moment in time I have made contact with a fellow traveler and punched a hole in the bubble of isolation so easily felt around us. For that moment, we can be our best, our most witty and engaged, knowing that we can enjoy the moment and then simply let it go. Perhaps it isn’t much in the scheme of things, but I know that nowadays, more often than not, I’m walking away with a smile on my face and life is just a little bit happier on my journey; maybe theirs, too.