Decency may have suffered a blow last week, but it may not have been a death blow.
Despite the oppressive malaise of mid-January, I forced myself out of pajamas into mascara and went grocery shopping. The ice that made a thick sheet over sidewalks and driveways was just beginning to melt. The sun, though, was still missing. I believe it was going on day nine.
I trudged behind my cart, joyless and devoid of optimism. I made my way past produce and around the deli where I took a sharp turn into natural foods. A man about the same age as me was stocking organic yogurts. I had to excuse myself as he was in the way of my desired kefir. He asked the polite, perfunctory question How you doing?
Being physically and temperamentally incapable of manufacturing mirth I responded with an obligatory but dishonest, I’m alright.
“Just alright?” He responded, pulling himself out of the refrigerated case with much more concern than quality customer service merited.
It felt like he was ready to listen and either I looked like a serious sorry sack or something else was afoot. “Yeah.” I lied as I didn’t want to get into my whole mid-life existential crisis aggravated by a sprained foot here in front of the nut milks. “This weather has really got me down.”
Satisfied with my answer, we ended our abrupt exchange and I pushed my cart down the canned goods aisle. Later when I was at the checkout and unloading my items onto the beltway, he approached again. He held up his phone for me to see that the weather was improving and the sun was scheduled for an appearance soon.
I thanked him. It was a heartfelt gesture even if it seemed out of sync with most grocery store interactions. I left a bit puzzled, but feeling slightly better.
Later, I mentioned this odd anecdote to my son as I was driving him home. He hypothesized that the man was hitting on me, which is the lens through which a teenage boy might view everything. I don’t think that was it. First, I think I wear Mom like some people wear jeans, and secondly it just didn’t feel like that. I later told my husband this story, a man much more familiar with my feminine wiles, and he completely agreed the man was not hitting on me. He offered the explanation that it was probably extra special customer service because I have been identified as a loyal but pain in the ass customer who has no time for coupons and no regard for sale items. (To be fair the manager did once give me four dollars out of his own pocket because I complained about sour smelling salami.)
But I think it’s something completely different. I think it’s decency backlash. I think 2016 left all of us a bit bruised. I think we as individuals will pull the reins back and make an effort to be more decent to each other, even if our leaders fail to demonstrate a way.