Guest Insights | Gesture of Kindness

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BY BOBBI ALMEIDA

I’m just going to start by pointing out the obvious: COVID-19 has really restructured the world.  It has brought forth changes that have become our new normal.   Social distancing and face masks have impacted not only our way of life but, for me, it impacted my state of mind as well.  As strange as it may sound, the masks make me feel as if I am invisible.  The masks make it impossible to know if someone is smiling or if they are irritated.  I miss the friendly smiles, even the ones in passing from a stranger.   I find myself still smiling at people from behind the mask, even though they have no idea that I’m doing it.   Maybe it’s just me, but the masks have made the world so much colder and more impersonal.

Please bear with me a moment as I give a little background that will seem irrelevant, but I assure you that will take you to the basis of this blog.  Those who know me know that I start each day with my diet Dr. Pepper.  It has to be a fountain drink with a lot of ice.  I have never been a coffee drinker (although my co-workers swore that would change once I began working full-time at the Marian House.)  I have never cared for coffee, but my soda serves the same purpose as coffee.  I have one particular 7-11 that I go to every morning before work.  I have gone to this same store every day for at least a year, perhaps longer.  Needless to say, they know me there.  Some know me by name, others by the large drink refill I get.

Not too long ago, I was heading into 7-11 to get my morning drink.  I was greeted outside by an employee who was desperately trying to figure out a way to get me a free drink. He offered to take my bottle and fill it, then bring it out to me. I politely declined, telling him while I appreciated it, I could not see him getting in trouble over a dollar drink. This is not a clerk I see too often, and I believe he works only stocking shelves, as I have never seen him behind the counter. Truthfully, I never really noticed him until he talked to me that day.   He was extremely friendly, telling me how he sees me in there a lot and just wanted to show appreciation for his regular customers.   I once again thanked him and went about getting my dollar drink and not thinking much more about it.

Fast forward a week or so later:  I once again was at 7-11 getting my drink.  It was about 5 a.m., and I was at the register about to pay.  I suddenly heard someone behind me yell, “NO, NO.”   As I turned around, I saw the same clerk from the other day approaching the counter.  He reached into his pocket and slapped a dollar on the counter, and said, “I have been waiting a long time to do that for you.”  I smiled and thanked him several times, also telling him he did not have to do that.   It was a small gesture that had such a big impact on me.

I left the store with a huge smile that, hopefully, that clerk could see, even with my mask on.  My drive to work that day was different from other days.  Most days, it is time to reflect or simply sing along with the radio.  It is usually time spent going through the motions and not really thinking much about it.  On this day, it was different.  I thought about how much it must have meant to this man to have bought me my drink.  I thought about how long he must have planned it, simply waiting for me to come in.  And I wondered how many others he had done this for.  Surely, I can’t be the only one.

I got to work and was still thinking about his gesture.  Then I thought about what the world has become.  How we are so busy distancing ourselves and wearing masks to hide from the COVID-19 germs that perhaps our kindness and tolerance of our fellow humans have become lost in the chaos.   I thought about the man from 7-11.  I could only imagine that he was smiling, but because of the mask, all I can do is guess.  This pandemic has changed our world and changed basic human interaction.  Hugs have been replaced with elbow bumps.  We now have to look at someone’s eyes to know if they are smiling.  Fortunately, COVID-19 has not changed the kindness that exists in the hearts of many.  Somewhere in the darkness, kind people still exist.  The pandemic has changed many things, but kindness and compassion do not have to be part of that change.

I just wanted to share this story, as it was the highlight of my rather mundane week.  It is crazy to think that this guy has been wanting to buy my morning Dr. Pepper and I never even noticed him. I think it was a reminder that COVID-19 can make us feel invisible, but someone is always taking notice.  More importantly, it also serves as a lesson that a gesture of kindness really goes a long way – even if it is just a dollar drink.

Bobbi Almeida is a former security guard at Catholic Charities Marian House and a frequent contributor to the Catholic Charities blog.

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