Stranger’s kindness catches sophomore by surprise

May 1, 2012 — by Sarah Finley

My 23-year-old sister and I have only one major job over the December break: to bake enough Christmas cookies to feed our entire extended family for our annual get-together. This task, as you can imagine, often turns out to be quite a job.

Supplying 13 people with enough cookies to last for five days is never easy. Unfortunately, this large number of cookies can only be achieved through a seemingly excessive amount of ingredients, so shopping for all these items is also a time consuming task.

The trip this year began as usual.  I entered the grocery store with a creaky cart and a long shopping list in hand. Slowly, I maneuvered my way up and down the crowded aisles, dodging the carts of my fellow holiday shoppers and enduring their questioning looks as I loaded my cart with ridiculous amounts of baking necessities.

But it was at the checkout line that the outing really got interesting. As usual, the cashier began scanning our items and sliding them toward the bagging station. But since there was no bagger, I decided to help out and begin loading the bags instead of waiting awkwardly for the cashier to finish checking us out and then fill them himself.

After I had finished a few bags and transferred them into the cart, an employed and unfortunately more professional bagger somewhat awkwardly took my place. In an attempt to lighten the mood, my mom told him that I liked to bag, hoping to start some kind of conversation while we waited for our groceries.

This man took her comment to heart, thinking that I was aspiring to become a bagger like him.  After describing in detail the steps I should complete in order to apply for a bagging job, he then shared with me the events in his own life that led him to choose this career. Everything from his education to childhood jobs to even favorite books, I heard it all, leaving me no choice but to smile and nod in what I hoped to be a convincing manner.

When he finished the bagging process, I expected him to ask if we needed help getting the groceries to our car in which I planned to reply a firm, yet polite "Thanks, but I think we can get it from here." Instead, the man grabbed some bags without any questions and followed us out to the parking lot.

The one-sided conversation as we walked to the car consisted mainly of recommendations for my success in the career of bagging. Having a back-up job was his main suggestion, but learning to manage money was a close second.  He talked a lot about the classic "if only I knew then what I know now" ideas, quite considerately trying to make this profession easier for me as a beginner.

After loading the bags into our car, he headed back into the store, but not without his parting words, "I hope you are very successful."

While I doubt I will be pursuing this particular career choice, I appreciate his efforts to mentor me. Strangers are usually so distant and plain uninvolved. Although they usually engage in polite conversation about the weather and holiday season, it is not often that they share something worthwhile, something more personal.

So the fact that a complete stranger would care so much shows great kindness and generosity, a willingness to be different instead of just following the crowd.  He was not afraid to reach out to strangers, something few people can claim in today’s society.  Perhaps in that respect I do want to be like him.