By Corey Wheeland
It’s early evening, and we are standing in the checkout line at the grocery store. In my hands, I hold a shopping basket filled with chicken and cheese and tortillas and an assortment of vegetables—lettuce and carrots and peppers and tomatoes and…a pack of gum?
I glance at my daughter Zoey as she hops from foot to foot beside me. “What?” she asks, making her eyes big, obviously knowing exactly what my look means.
I point to the gum, and she shrugs her shoulders. “It’s strawberry flavored,” Zoey says. “And you said we needed some fruit.”
I look back at basket. She’s right: the only fruit I see are three pink, cartoon strawberries dancing across the plastic gum wrapper. I sigh. In my haste, I’ve totally forgotten the bananas I need for my breakfasts and the blueberries Zoey requested for her lunches.
There are four people in front of us, five people behind us, and the store is completely packed. It appears those fake strawberries are going to have to suffice. Although we picked the shortest line, it’s moving at a snail’s pace, and my patience is wearing thin.
As for Zoey, she’s had a full day already, but seems to have energy to spare: she’s darting around my legs and dancing to the music playing from the ceiling speakers above us. The park would be good right about now—a nice way to tire her out—but here we stand waiting in line at the store instead. I move the basket to the crook of my elbow and remind Zoey to not stray too far.
Out of the corner of my eye, I can’t help but notice the cashier. She is dressed in a magnificent rainbow of colors and patterns. A fake yellow flower adorns her head, and her eye shadow is the sparkly shade of 24-karat gold. Her eyes dance and her mouth moves a mile a minute. She is talking up a storm, chattering away mindlessly as she tries to engage the customer she is attending to in conversation.
My impatience fades away as I can’t help but be touched by this woman’s effort to brighten someone’s day—both in her appearance and her words. But as she checks one person out after another, I find myself noticing what is happening on the other side of the counter: one by one, the people in the line in front of me refuse to respond back to her. There are a few head nods, but that’s it. It is apparent that they are clearly irritated that this checkout process is just taking way too long.
My heart is heavy at their lack of kindness, so when it’s finally our turn, I catch her eye with mine. I look at her name tag.
“Hi, Mary,” I say, smiling brightly. “Tough crowd, huh?”
Mary pauses, as if taken aback, but then slowly smiles back.
“You got that right, sister,” she nods. “I’m just trying to spread a little sunshine here!”
“Well, you’re certainly accomplishing that. I just love your outfit. It’s so happy,” I tell her as Zoey finally stops dancing around and props her chin up over the ledge of the counter. She looks at Mary, and I can tell by her face that she is completely enchanted by this joyful, colorful woman.
“Thank you,” Mary says. She then bends down toward toward Zoey. “Well, hi there, little one. What’s your name?”
“I’m Zoey!” Zoey exclaims as she points to the flower-adorned headband that sits on the top of her own head. “And look, we both have flowers on our heads!”
Mary belts out a loud, deep laugh. “Yes, ma’am, we certainly do! But I think I like yours more than mine, because well, they’re pink! You’ve got some good taste, girl.”
Just as Mary had been doing with her previous customers, Zoey keeps talking. “And I just LOVE your eye shadow, it’s so awesome!” She then turns to me and asks, “Mommy, do you think we could go find some like that for me?”
I point to the gum that Mary is now handing her. “Don’t push your luck, sweet pea.”
As we finish checking out, Mary offers Zoey a sticker, which she accepts and thanks her for. Mary and I share one last smile as she waves us away. “Have a good night,” I say.
“You too! And thanks for bringing the sunshine back!”
I grab Zoey’s hand as we head outside, but before we even reach the parking lot, Zoey asks another question.
“Why didn’t anyone else say anything back to her? She was just trying to be kind.”
Thirty-five years ago, in a restaurant in Sausalito, California, a woman by the name of Anne Herbert was struck by a thought. She grabbed her placemat and a pen and wrote down these words:
Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.
A positive spin on the phrase ‘random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty’, Herbert eventually turned these simple words into a book—Random Kindness & Senseless Acts of Beauty—an allegory that inspires readers to take ‘joyful steps’ to end hatred and violence. Since the book’s publication in 1993, these words have become a common catchphrase in our society.
I’ve always loved the sentiment behind Herbert’s words, but more and more these days, I’m starting to believe that we need to take them a step further: we shouldn’t just practice kindness randomly. We need to practice it intentionally. As a parent, I’ve been challenged to raise a child without her falling victim to the negative outside forces and pressures by which we are often surrounded. While it is a daunting task, I often remind myself that it will be the simple lessons and behaviors that I model and teach her that will truly be the ones that stick. Those will be ones that win.
As a child, I was taught to always be kind, even if I wasn’t treated with kindness. Because of this, on my list of simple life lessons that I want to teach my daughter, being kind is the very first one. To me, it is the most important one of all.
“Why didn’t anyone else say anything back to her?
She was just trying to be kind.”
I kneel down next to Zoey. “Because unfortunately sometimes people aren’t very kind,” I say.
I can tell by the look on her face that she still is having a hard time comprehending this, so I pull up that list of lessons in my head, and I’m reminded that empowering her is pretty high up there, too.
“But while we can’t control what other people do, we can always control how we act,” I continue. “Just like I always tell you, it is always important to be kind. Think about how Mary at the store just made you feel. She made you feel happy, right?”
Zoey nods emphatically.
“So remember that when you are kind, you make people happy. If you practice being kind every single day, you have the power to touch so many people’s lives.”
“I can do that,” Zoey nods as she considers my words. “But, mommy, that doesn’t seem like a very hard thing to do.”
“It’s not,” I say. “Remember that, too.”
It is late, and the sun of the summer solstice has all but faded from the sky. In its place, the moon hangs high, and the light it casts sneaks in through the blinds of Zoey’s bedroom. It has found the curve of Zoey’s cheek and the delicate arch of her long, midnight-drenched eyelashes. Her eyes are dark but bright as she looks at me, blinking away at the sleep that is trying its best to pull her away from the day.
These nighttime moments with Zoey are some of my favorites, the ones where I lay next to her as I put her to bed. In these moments, we talk and share and laugh and listen, and it is in these moments where I pay attention the most.
“I love you so much,” I say quietly.
Zoey’s gaze catches my own. “Mommy?”
“Yes, peanut?” I ask.
“Did you know that we have an invisible line between us?” Zoey whispers. “One that connects our souls?” She places one hand over her heart and the other against the bones of my own rib cage. And then, as Zoey’s words fill the space between us and her tiny eyelids close one last time, sleep finally finds her.
There is an invisible line that connects us…
Weaved together with love and understanding and the shared blood that courses through our veins, the line that connects Zoey and me is a strong one. But as I think back to our moment with Mary earlier in the week, I think about the lines that connect all of us together—loved ones, family, friends, co-workers, even complete strangers.
Though we may not ever see Mary again, in that moment, the three of us created lines—the delicate beginnings of a small triangular web—and our souls and hearts connected. And it was all because we took the time to pay attention, to smile, to express gratitude, and to listen.
It was because we took the time to be kind.
Although it maybe seemed like it in the grocery store that day, Zoey and Mary and I are of course not the only ones weaving a web of kindness. If you look around, past the anger and hate that gets so much press these days, you will be able to see the strong silken strands of kindness connecting so many people in so many places.
But imagine how amazing this web could become if we all practiced intentional kindness? If we all opened our hearts to others? If we all actively engaged in expressing gentle, loving words and actions more often? Doing so would make this web—the one that has the ability to connect us all in warm, wonderful, positive ways—boundless and unyielding. And though it may sway in the winds of hate and darkness, it is a web that would remain safe and strong, creating the perfect environment to grow and cultivate more love, more hope, and of course, more kindness.
Remember though: It starts with each of us, making an intentional choice to be kind, even when others may not be kind to you.
So today, let us weave together a web of intentional kindness. We will all be better—as families, friends, and communities—because of it.
Corey Wheeland is a marketing professional, graphic designer, writer, and single mom to her amazing daughter, Zoey. One of her favorite pastimes is working on her blog, The Nostalgia Diaries, where her goal is to simplify, enhance, and engage people’s lives by helping them focus on the most important things: remembering, appreciating, believing, and becoming. It’s all about celebrating the past to create better days today.