Rents in New York City are high so stores are often small and cramped, and sometimes there isn’t enough room for customers to line up in front of the cashier. Instead of forming a line they wait in a spread-out jumble, and when you join the jumble you don’t know who’s immediately ahead of you. It could be somebody standing 15 feet away.
I was in one of these little stores yesterday waiting to pay when a woman joined the jumble. I immediately thought, “Does she know she’s behind me? Is she going to cut in front of me?”
My brain was doing what brains often do, worrying about Freddie’s place in the world, looking for threats and averting them, etc.
There was an unpleasant feeling as this happened because having to worry about such things is a burden. A slight burden but a burden nonetheless.
I’ll return to this “burden” at the end of this article.
I looked at her to determine if she knew she was behind me and she very subtly acknowledged me. If I had known I was going to write this post I would have made an effort to notice how she did this. I think she made very brief eye contact and either changed her posture or backed up a step. Humans are so skilled at communicating with body language that we don’t even notice we’re doing it.
A few minutes later the group of people thinned out and she and I moved to form a proper line. She had a small impatient child with her and she was carrying a lot of items in the crook of her arm because she hadn’t bothered to get a basket when she entered the store. I was alone and my items were in a basket. Without thinking I gestured and said, “Go ahead of me.”
I think it’s interesting that my body did this without thinking because a few minutes earlier, when I had been worrying that she would get in front of me, there had been plenty of thought. The generous action was thoughtless but the self-protective concerns were not. In fact my mind was surprised by what my body did.
Normally I wouldn’t have paid much attention to any of this but at that moment I remembered the two articles on kindness that I published here a few days ago, especially my friend’s comment about grace flowing as a result of acts of kindness, and I suddenly thought, “This is a chance to observe grace flowing” and I started to pay close attention.
When I told the woman to go before me she said, “Are you sure?” I said yes. She broke into a radiant smile and thanked me. It really made her happy. Twice more before she left the store she turned and thanked me. Her face was glowing. This simple little act made a palpable difference in her day.
The effect on me was that I put the burden down, the burden I described above. This was a relief. I was lighter and happier.
The atmosphere around us seemed to change. It felt almost like when you’re outdoors in the sun and birds are singing.
My brain had been tiring itself out fighting to protect Freddie’s place in the world. I stopped that tiring activity by surrendering Freddie’s place.
So it wasn’t just kindness. It was also surrender.
Surrender to what? To the thing my mind wanted to prevent.
Maybe this is why Jesus told people, “If somebody tries to take your cloak, give him your coat as well,” and, “If somebody hits one side of your face, offer the other side too.” Maybe this is the meaning of that teaching.