When I was in my early 20s, I was struggling with extreme clinical depression. I remember spending days at home, not eating, fitfully sleeping, in between bouts of crying. I lived with a terribly unkind roommate, and money was so tight in those days that my bank account balance was often down to my last $10.
It was in the midst of one of those weeks of crying and fitful sleeping and not leaving my house for days on end that I finally did leave the house, and walked to the grocery store a few blocks away. The depression I was in, in that moment, was so heavy that I felt like a weight was anchored around me, making my footsteps heavier and slowing me down. I walked up and down the aisles of the grocery store, so achingly sad that I was willing myself not to burst into tears in the middle of the grocery store. Thoughts were going through my head such as, “What’s the point of buying this food? What’s the point of eating? What’s the point of… anything?”
I made it to the line and the cashier began ringing me up. She noticed that I was struggling, and in that moment she made a decision that changed my life: she chatted me up, made eye contact, and even though I hadn’t told her a thing about what I was going through, she told me that I was doing great and I was going to be okay. She said these things with a sincerity and empathy that was devoid of pity. She simply saw a human being who was suffering, and spoke into it.
In the moment when we collided, I was fucking spiraling. I was doing everything I knew to do, but I could not see the forest for the trees and it was scaring the shit out of me.
Her choice that day, changed me. I remember walking out of the store, a little crack of light having entered the picture. Another human being saw me, saw my suffering, and believed that I was capable of feeling better. She didn’t do anything radical; she didn’t “fix” me. She was, simply, kind and open-hearted.
Our lives matter far more than we can possibly realize, far more than we can possibly give them credit for. We can never know when, just by being ourselves, we will be someone else’s gift.
We do ourselves a gross disservice when we assume that because of our occupations, or unless we take some kind of massive action, we cannot have an impact—because I’m here to tell you right now that a cashier at an Albertson’s grocery store in Davis, California, made a difference at a critical moment in my life nearly 18 years ago, simply because she noticed that I was suffering and made a choice to be kind. It wasn’t a fancy job title or strategy that made the difference—it was simple kindness.
Maybe you are sitting here now, reading this, wondering what your life purpose is. Maybe you think that the only way to feel fulfilled is through your job. Maybe you think that your life is ordinary and unremarkable.
But you can really never really know the impact of your existence. Your impact certainly doesn’t come from your job description. It certainly doesn’t come from doing flashy things. My guess would be that that cashier just went about her day, after I left. I don’t recall seeing her again. But all these years later, I will remember her, because her kindness was so utterly transformative as to be unforgettable.
I think a lot about unseen interconnectedness. It brings me to tears, the staggering awesomeness of the ways that we as humans can positively impact one another, and how little it really takes, to do that.
Give the hug to the friend. Say, “I’m there for you.”
When your coworker looks stressed, name it, ask if she wants to talk.
Put a few dollars in the outstretched cup on the street corner.
Follow the spontaneity of sending someone a card, for no reason at all.
Risk the vulnerability of letting other people know that they matter.
You can never know when that smile, that dollar, that card, will make all the difference in the world for someone’s life.