The other day as I was doing the grocery shopping, I moved up and down the aisles, deep in thought about several pressing problems – some personal, some professional, some musical. I was by myself, and busy with my thoughts about shopping (check prices, ingredients) and the various issues on my mind.
As always, I stay to the right in the grocery store aisle; I check for other shoppers before I emerge from an aisle into the larger space at either end of the store, and I try to yield for older people, for those who use assistive devices, for those with small children, and for others who might not be able to move around easily.
So as I was preparing to emerge from the end of the aisle (on the right side, of course), I was paying attention to “traffic,” but I was also thinking about other things, in particular some sad news I had received earlier that day. I probably had a sad, or somber, look on my face. Another shopper entered the aisle where I was, but on the “wrong” side of the aisle, that is, on heading up what would be the left side, exactly where I already was on the right side. She was in a hurry. So there I was with my sad face just as she nearly ran head on into my cart with her cart. There was no place for me to go – all I could do was wait for her to stop and go around. I said nothing; I just looked at her, and I guess that in my startled and sad state I didn’t look too great. Rather than apologize for being in the wrong place, for startling me, for nearly running in to me, she criticized me for the way I looked. Yes. She criticized my facial expression. “Some people need to learn to smile!” she sneered at me, apparently unaware of the irony of saying something like that without the hint of a smile. Then she snapped at a child who was with her who had somehow gotten in her way. I caught the kid’s eye and we exchanged a small, private smile, the sort of smile that is done mostly with the eyes. The child looked at me with gentle empathy.
A few minutes later at the other end of the store, I saw the same family in the check-out line. It’s not easy to shop with children, but is there ever a need to be mean to the kids? I am horrified and saddened by the terrible way that some parents treat their children. My major exposure to parenting styles is in the grocery store, where I regularly see parents berate, belittle, insult, tease, and shame their children. Assuming that the parents behave better in public than they do at home, I shudder to think what they are like at home.
I was so tempted to approach this woman to speak to her privately about her comment to me. What right did she have to criticize my appearance? I wanted her to understand how her behavior affected the children in her care. Of course I did nothing; I don’t know her life circumstances and what pressing problems might have put her into a critical, sneering state of mind. But I worry about her the sadness in that child’s eyes.
I cannot even express how much I miss K. Our grocery shopping trips were, believe it or not, some really special times as we chose new foods to try, planned our meals, and laughed at ridiculous food products. Though getting groceries is now a chore that I do not enjoy, having her along during all those years made it wonderful.