It’s 4am here in Australia. I awoke at 3am and was unable to get back to sleep. As I am lying in bed trying to get comfortable and go back to sleep, my mind drifts back to the day before. I involuntarily revisit my trip to the supermarket to buy groceries. Why am I thinking about such a boring task that’s already been completed? As the scene plays out in my mind, I realise something important didn’t happen that could have, if I had been paying attention.
I had loaded my groceries onto the conveyor belt and was vaguely aware of the young woman in front of me. She was holding up the line because she didn’t have enough money to buy her groceries and a packet of cigarettes. The cashier was being very patient and they were discussing the price of various brands of cigarettes to determine which ones, if any, that she could afford to buy.
I was feeling slightly irritated but kept myself in check because, you know, I’m a good person – or so I tell myself. I kind of noticed the elderly gentlemen behind me was not happy about the delay but I paid him no attention. Eventually the situation was sorted and it was my turn at the cashier. Groceries paid for, home sweet home!
Recently I heard a wise man say, “the day is ruled by the intellect but the night is ruled by the heart.” I resonated with this when I first heard it and in the wee hours of this morning my heart had something to say to me and it went something like this;
You could have offered to pay for her groceries, why didn’t you? Is it because she was buying cigarettes, did you feel you would be enabling her addiction? Where’s your compassion? What about the elderly man? You had some awareness that all was not well with him. You could have looked him in the eye and offered a kind word.
You saw them but you didn’t see them, you heard them but you weren’t listening. You were on auto pilot, impatient to get your groceries home and get on with your day. But those two people were a part of your day, you just weren’t aware of it. You had an opportunity to make the world a better place, just for a moment, for two people and you missed it. It was a chance to genuinely connect with two strangers, no strings attached and brighten their day.
It was true, I was on auto pilot. I was not in the present moment. In the past, I have paid for someone’s groceries when I saw they were struggling. A young mother was buying baby food and basic staples and was in the process of determining which groceries she could go without so that she could afford to pay the bill. She literally cried with gratitude when I offered to pay for her groceries but I know I was the one who benefited the most.
My heart wasn’t berating me for missing these opportunities. It was gently reminding me that it’s human encounters like these that add texture and richness to the mundane aspects of life, like grocery shopping.
So, next week when I write my shopping list, the first item on the list will be a reminder to “pay attention” to the people I encounter as I do my shopping.