The Opposite of Kindness isn’t Cruelty

The Opposite of Kindness isn’t Cruelty

I stopped at the grocery store this morning. It was raining hard enough that I needed an umbrella to make it from the car to the store. I only needed a few things — bacon and tomatoes for dinner BLTs.

My checker was a young man named Sam who started working at the market on Thursday. In line in front of me was an 80-year-old woman with a lot of questions.

It would have been easy to be annoyed. To switch to a line that moved quicker. Or at all. But I wasn’t in a hurry. I stood there looking at the magazines and listening to the inexperienced checker and the elderly woman go back and forth.

She thought her ice cream was over charged by $1. He wanted to know if she wanted her eggs in a bag.

Then she said something about double bagging because she’d be carrying her groceries back to her apartment. He balanced her eggs on tops of her ice cream, a situation that was obviously a disaster waiting to happen.

It was still raining sheets outside. The woman said that she’d thought about waiting to come to the store, but she needed her arthritis medicine. Her hands were disfigured. Any amount of rain makes them ache, she said.

I offered to drive her home.

Her name is Lorraine. We were in my car together for five minutes.

In that time, she told me about her son, who would be 50 this year, but he died of the flu when he was fourteen. She told me about living in Yonkers and how everyone thinks that she’s rich because she’s from New York. She told me about the last apartment she lived in and how she hated to move from it, but she her daughter thought she needed a place with an elevator. And her daughter’s a nurse, so she knows. She told me that she’s never driven a car. She walks everywhere. She always has.

I mostly listened. For the drive to her apartment and then for about twenty minutes in the parking lot. She told me about how she likes to walk to listen to music in the park in the summer and told me her apartment number, in case I’d ever just like to come talk.

My first instinct was to feel sad for an 80-year-old woman who was obviously lonely and hungry for someone to just listen to her. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I felt rather magnanimous, offering a full twenty-five minutes of my life to be that person.

But then I remembered that she spoke to two people in the time it took me check out with my bacon and tomatoes. Grocery store employees who knew her by name. She gets out of her apartment and walks everywhere. She goes to listen to music in the park every week of the summer.

I’m the one who has barely stuck my nose out of my bedroom for six months. I’m the one who has practically forgotten how to speak to people I’m not related to.

The opposite of kindness isn’t cruelty. It’s indifference. For twenty-five minutes this morning, I noticed Lorraine. And she noticed me, too.

I’m the one who is lonely. Lorraine did me a favor, not the other way around.

I hope I run into her again.

Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.

The Opposite of Kindness isn’t Cruelty

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