I lost one of my favourite mittens in the grocery store yesterday morning. I had the pair of them stuffed in my jacket pocket while I shopped, and when I reached the last store aisle, I looked down and noticed there was only one remaining there. The mittens were relatively new, having been a Christmas gift from Matt, and it upset me that I had somehow separated the pair. Even though I was pressed for time because I was supposed to pick up Noah at school, I backtracked through the entire store, pushing my heavy cart in front of me and scouring the floor and shelves for a hopeful sign of familiar chunky-knit gray and white wool with a jaunty stripe in red. My search turned up nothing useful, so I resignedly headed to the checkout counter and prepared to leave the store.
On my way out, I decided to pass by the customer service desk, hoping I could ask someone there if the store had a lost and found box where my mitten might have (luckily) ended up. But before I even reached the customer service person, I spotted my mitten lying right there in plain sight on the counter. Some thoughtful person had placed it there, hoping its owner might see it and retrieve it as she passed by. (My mitten was lying next to a random block of cheese, and I wondered if someone had lost that, too, and if so, I hoped they'd be reunited with it!) The little, but meaningful, good deed by a stranger completely made my day.
This morning I picked up Noah from his last exam and took him to the nearby Starbucks for a celebratory hot drink. While we were there, I noticed an elderly woman approach a middle-aged woman in the lineup and initiate a conversation, though it was clear that the two women didn't know each other. The elderly woman was asking for directions to a street that doesn't even exist in our city, and the other woman was kindly trying to clarify where exactly she wanted to go. When the elderly woman said she thought she might have a doctor's appointment on a certain street today and wasn't sure how to get there, the other woman offered to help her, first by having the elderly woman follow her in her car, and then, when she realized the elderly woman didn't have a car, by personally driving her there. The middle-aged woman found out the name of the doctor from the elderly woman and called that medical office, just to confirm that she was going to the right place. From what I could gather from the one-sided phone conversation, the elderly woman did not actually have an appointment there, and in fact, was not even a patient at that office. It was heartbreaking to realize the extent to which this elderly woman was confused.
After a little more chit chat, the elderly woman said goodbye, headed out of the coffee shop and began walking down the street. The middle-aged woman, still visibly concerned, decided to notify the police in an effort to ensure the elderly woman's safety. She wondered aloud afterwards whether she had done the right thing, but she felt that she had to help somehow. Noah and I were both touched to see such care shown to a complete stranger.
What is the point of telling small stories of lost mittens and Starbucks encounters? Because I think in our current climate of political upheaval, hurt, hatred, violence, division, and outrage, it's important to know that there are still good things happening around us. Fear and anger about the state of our world make us want to look away, to shut ourselves off from the constant stream of overwhelming news and focus only on the relative safety of ourselves and those close to us. But there is hope to be found in the tiny acts of kindness towards strangers that are still everywhere, if we're willing to keep our eyes and hearts open to experience them.
I think acknowledging and trying to understand the challenges, misfortunes, and suffering of others is necessary; it is empathy that often compels us to be our most loving and giving selves. But we also need to be heartened by continuing to notice the good, whether it be in small, local gestures or in grand ones happening on a more global scale. We need to notice, and then join our unique voices or hands or brains to the many others that are working, in their own positive ways, to crowd out cruelty, ignorance, indifference, and hatred. We need to keep believing that we each have it in us to make our shared spaces and experiences better for one another.