You may have noticed that I haven’t spoken about shopping carts in a long time. That used to be a specialty of mine, noticing that people who went shopping often left their carts in the wrong place. Instead of pushing them to a cart return or to the front of the store, they strategically tucked them in behind the car next to them, or else they gave them a shove in the general direction of the store and then hoped for the best. I get it, people can’t be bothered. They have places to go and things to do.
Well, lately I haven’t noticed this phenomenon as much. I’m not sure if more people are becoming conscientious, as some most certainly are, or whether the more lazy or selfish people are just making others shop for them. Did you ever wonder why so many of my topics and stories seem to happen at supermarkets? Yes, it is possible that it’s one of my most frequent places to visit, especially these days when many other venues have been restricted.
I think, though, that what makes it such a magical place for insight and inspiration is that fact that people let down their guard because they don’t think anyone’s watching. When you go to shul, you know that if you misbehave it will get noticed. People may start to think about what kind of a person you are, and that may have large ramifications. But in a store, who knows me?
That’s when you see the big differences between those who work on themselves and those who don’t; between those who are refined and those who are not; between the people you learn to follow, and the people from whom you learn what not to do.
When you see people in the store standing in the middle of the aisle, blocking others with their cart, you are seeing their real personality. They are self-centered and thoughtless. They may be sensitive at other times, but that’s when they’re trying. It hasn’t yet become a part of them and hopefully this column will make them realize it.
The same applies when you see the people who take note of others and make sure they don’t block anyone, perhaps by parking their cart in front of some less-popular items, like gluten-free vegan beef jerky or pickled plums, while they go to grab the barley for their cholent or some takeout items from more crowded sections. When you see someone move to the side for you, that’s because they are focused on working on themselves and putting others first. Make sure you say thank you!
Unfortunately, in some stores I have to ask myself why people bump into me and I’m the one apologizing. Why don’t they feel bad that they knocked into me? Why does the girl who would not want to sit next to a man on the bus suddenly have no problem squeezing past me in a crowded store and brushing up against me? It’s because she’s not aware she’s being watched, but guess what? We are always being watched.
Like this one time I was waiting in line at the grocery store. It was mid-afternoon, not normally a busy time, but it was a snowy day so many people, myself included, were home early and shopping. As I stood in the abnormally long lines, I resigned myself to a long wait. Not only that, it struck me to pull out my phone where I have a Chumash app and go over the Parsha. I excitedly made the most of my time!
Then, in my peripheral vision, I noticed a woman fidgeting and shifting her body back and forth as she stood in line behind me. I gathered that she was craning her neck looking at the other lanes and trying to see if one would move faster. I felt bad for her. She was obviously impatient and the long lines were annoying her. She was commenting that the store should have had more cashiers, but her adult daughter was calm about it. “This is probably not their busy time,” she said, clearly a woman who was not inclined to get upset.
Then when someone on another aisle moved, the mom said, “Well, we picked the wrong line, obviously.” At this point I could ignore it or say something. Of course, I had to say something. Putting my chumash down, I turned and smiled (though she couldn’t see it well through my mask,) and said, “I figure G-d knows why He wants us here in line. Maybe we’re missing a spin-out on the road and He’s keeping us safe.” Guess what she did?
She agreed with me! Suddenly, she was able to calm down. She was able to acknowledge that it wasn’t so bad to be waiting. Maybe it’s because she realized someone was watching, or maybe it’s because she realized Someone was watching. Either way, she started acting on her best behavior, which is what Hashem asks of us all.
So, when you’re out and about, and you think no one is watching, think again. You may not only find yourself acting the way you really want to, but you may save yourself aggravation and embarrassment in the process. That’s as good a tip on the market as I’ve ever heard.
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