In my imagination, I am a person who is kind, generous and equally respectful to most people I meet. Since I became a mother less than a year ago, I find that vision is often cancelled out by over-protective thoughts of minimizing the baby’s contact with germs and dirty people. Fortunately, for me and my family a sense of politeness usually wins out, and recently I was reminded why.
I steeled myself as my son began to smile at the man behind us in the grocery line. I knew what was coming, first the grins, then the giggles, then the inevitable face touch. Of course, my 11-month old with thick, blonde curly hair, bright blue eyes and a full set of front teeth is cute, but come on, does everyone have to put their hands all over his hands and face? And why, for goodness’ sake is it always the person you would least want to talk to, who actually goes in for the tickle?
I can’t answer karmic questions of that kind. All I can tell you is what happened. My son was drawing the old man in, going into cuddle position in his seat and giggling out loud every time the man took his experienced, grandfather fingers and tickled the baby’s chin. I looked at the man’s white hair and leathered skin above his worn-out, v-neck undershirt and stained work pants, and I watched the kindness and joy in his eyes as laughter poured out of the little face intently watching him. I straightened my back, put on my best “one-must-be-gracious smile” and prepared to end the love affair blossoming in front of me.
Just as I started to say something, a woman crossed behind us, gave me a knowing look and said, “I think someone’s day has just been made.” So I relaxed, and watched my son enjoy his interaction. Then I cooed over pictures of the man’s three-year-old grandson and listened to his polish accent tell me about the other four grandkids, all of whom lived far away and didn’t visit. I didn’t budge until the clerk finally said he was sorry to interrupt our chat, but it was time for me to pay.
I left the store thinking on the one hand of how best to wash germs out of a double-chin, and on the other how easily I could have been unkind to the man, and set a bad example for my son. I was suddenly grateful to the woman who had walked by and reminded me of what I already knew; if you step out of your comfort zone, even a little bit, to make someone else’s day more pleasant that is what makes a difference in the world.
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