I went to the grocery store yesterday morning (unsuccessfully) rushing to get out of there before it was packed with throngs of Christmas shoppers, running out of time to prep for their holiday weekends. I finished up by grabbing the last of the produce I needed and was winding my way towards the checkout counters.
At my grocery store, the produce section is directly in front of the entrance, so it often becomes bottlenecked both with the shoppers buying fruits and vegetables and the people who’ve just walked in the store. They inevitably stop right in front of moving carts as they try to get their bearings – it’s not a great setup. In other words, there were a lot of mildly irritated people trying to get their carts through a small space with varying degrees of success. Add to that the stress of the holidays and I was honestly waiting for someone to lose their shit. For someone who absorbs the energy in a room like I do, it meant I was in a hurry to get out of there as soon as I could.
As I was waiting my turn to get past, a women coming from the opposite direction suddenly yelled rather dramatically, “It’s your birthday?!?!?!?” I, along with most of the produce section looked up to see her talking to a small girl sitting in one of those enormous double-seater kid carts. You know the ones- they weigh about 100 lbs empty and if you’ve ever tried to maneuver one, you know it’s like trying to land a 747 right there next to the organic strawberries. The mom had just entered the store with her two daughters sitting in the molded plastic seats – the kids were maybe two and four. The oldest girl, sitting closest to this woman must have blurted out her news as they were waiting to pass. The woman wished the little girl a happy birthday with the same enthusiasm and then looked around for a moment impishly. Suddenly, as loud as she could, this woman cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled, “Hey Everybody!!!! It’s this little girl’s birthday!” She stopped, looked at the girl and quickly asked, “Wait, what’s your name?” The little girl whispered something shyly to her and the woman yelled again, “It’s Maddy’s birthday right here!”
A few of us close by answered with a “Happy Birthday, Maddy!” and a small smattering of applause. But that wasn’t enough for this woman. Suddenly she started belting out “Happy Birthday to you….” And we all joined in. By all, I mean EVERYONE in the produce section: all the people stuck in the log jam by the door, and all the people grabbing fruits and vegetables in the back who couldn’t even see Maddy. Cashiers and managers looked our way and started singing too. All the annoyed people trying to just get home before traffic got bad. We all stopped our busyness for 30 seconds, united to sing a rousing chorus to this child as a woman who didn’t know her but knew the importance of this birthday, directed us with a huge grin on her face. The song ended, people applauded, the mom thanked the woman and everyone went back to what they were doing before.
And yet, as we dispersed, we all had smiles on our faces. I can’t speak for everyone, but my heart was filled, my stress lifted for a few minutes and I felt a lot of gratitude that a little child in her innocent enthusiasm told a stranger about her special day and that woman knew exactly the correct way to respond.
Happy birthday, Maddy, wherever you are: thanks for giving us all a gift.