Thursday, February 05, 2009

Kindness from Strangers

I'm 7 months pregnant, but since I wear a big, oversized ski jacket that I've had since early college days, no one can tell that I have a protruding middle when it's cold out.

And it's now wintertime, even in North Carolina (most of the time).

So this means that when I get on the bus to go to work, I look like any other young woman in scrub pants, hat, and huge ski jacket getting on a bus. Since I live relatively close to the hospital, the bus is inevitably full in the morning by the time it stops near my house. I stand and hold the bar for about a half mile before the first main stop comes where half of the students exit, and I find a seat.

At first, I was a bit annoyed that I had to stand "in my condition(!)" and I resented my large jacket. But soon I realized how silly I was being: here I was, going to work as a physical therapist at the hospital, where I'm on my feet all day (except when I'm on my knees instead, crawling around the floor retrieving balls that I've coaxed my young charges to throw!) Why should I need a seat on the bus for a 15 minute ride in the morning? Besides, I can only imagine how awkward I'd start to feel if, everytime I entered the bus, somebody gave me a seat. I'd start to feel guilty that my stop was so late in the route.

As a result of these personal revelations, I've accustommed myself to making sure my jacket is zippered; I expect no special courtesies by others who are also half-asleep while making their ways to their respective jobs.

So of course, it came as a surprise one evening this week when I went grocery shopping (and happened to have my jacket unbuttoned). I pushed my cart up to the register where "Tina" was stationed.
Instead of the company-scripted, "Did you find everything okay?" Tina asked me, "What are you having?"
I looked at her quizzically--I may have even said, "excuse me?" because I had no idea what she was referring to. Did she wonder how everything in my cart might make one dinner menu for the night?
"Boy or girl?" she clarified.
"Oh! I'm sorry--we don't know. We're keeping it a surprise," I respond--just now realizing that my jacket is unzipped. At this point, I wonder whether I should hand her my discount shopping card (DSC); we're so off-script that I'm a bit frazzled. She hasn't asked for my card--and she's already proceeding to the part where she scans my groceries!!
Apparently, the spontaneous nature of the encounter doesn't phase her.
"Is this your first?" she continues, gingerly plucking my DSC from my half-outstretched hand, scannning it, and returning it.
"Yes, it is," I say, half-absently--since now I'm trying to swipe my debit card, and I'm one of those people who actually needs to READ the digital instructions on the card reader to make sure I do everything in the right order.
"That's so exciting," she coos.
"I know! We're very excited," I reply, finally finished with the logistical aspects of my checkout procedures. I move to the end of the counter to start bagging my goods.
Tina refuses to let the belt carry them down to me: "I can do all that when I'm done," she says.
"No, it's okay if I start them," I tell her.
She reluctantly turns her belt on, realizing that I'm about to reach across the counter to grab my blueberries.
I finish about 3 bags' worth when another girl comes up behind me: "I can finish these for you, ma'am!"
I step aside and thank her. Soon there is a third staff member present, and everyone is scanning, or bagging, or loading my cart.
"See, there's plenty of us here to do this for you!" Tina rejoices.
After I pay, Tina goes off-script once again. Instead of, "Would you like help out today?" she looks at me and says, "We're helping you out to your car. You're pregnant enough..." I laugh, but thank her, and chat with the "bagger" on the way out.

Of course, when I get home, I lug all the groceries around the house to our apartment, a few bags at a time, and I'm none the worse for the effort.

But it's refreshing to taste kindness from strangers.