Kindness at the Grocery Store

I have a new relationship with the grocery store. Woodman’s is now a place to intentionally practice; to be aware, mindful, and kind. If you’re unfamiliar with Woodman’s, it’s a huge supermarket with towering, crammed aisles and little open space. Navigating a cart isn’t easy. This situation used to annoy me, but now I enter Woodman’s prepared to slow down.

The produce section can feel particularly chaotic, and the cheese aisle often has a backlog of people. Shoppers look stressed and tired, so I try to be kind, letting people go in front of me and smiling if someone meets my eyes. I also practice patience. When a person’s cart blocks my path, I wait. Wait and breathe.

This reframe of grocery shopping has positive outward effects yet just as importantly, I feel better. I feel less crabby and more easeful. I feel happier and less rushed. And it doesn’t add substantial time to my errand.

Last week, during an ordinary day at Woodman’s, I had a special experience. Checkout lines were long, extended back through the aisles. I chose a line, but demarcations are often unclear. I noticed the front of another cart pointing to my lane. We entered from separate aisles, blocked from each other’s view. The line moved forward, and I gestured to the other cart, an invitation to go first. A man nodded his appreciation, and I smiled. A small moment of connection. There was bustle around us, but this was a chance to wait, breathe, and be.

Eventually, I moved to the checkout station. The man paid for his groceries then laid a $20 bill in my cart. He quietly said, “I’d ask you to pay it forward, but you already have.” I was stunned. I also noticed my strong impulse to return his money (“No, I don’t need this—give it to someone in more need”), but I chose to accept his kindness: “Thank you, from my heart. I will definitely pay it forward.” He nodded and silently left.

The cashier exclaimed, “Wow!” I described the scenario: I didn’t do much; I just let him go before me in line. She replied, “Well, he must have appreciated it. That whole thing almost made me cry.” As I stood, and she scanned, I felt verklempt. I was moved and humbled. A reminder that small gestures make a big difference.

I still have that $20 bill in a special pocket of my wallet. There’s no rush to pay it forward. I’ll wait patiently until a person in need crosses my path. And, in that moment, I hope I’m as courageous as my Woodman’s friend. Because kindness isn’t passive. It’s active, wholehearted, and brave. It would be easy to put the $20 bill in a tip jar. It’s harder—and more powerful—to step forward when a stranger needs help. And to offer that help in a kind, compassionate, and humble way.