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Healing Trauma: One Grocery Store Line at a Time

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

There’s a women standing in front of me at the grocery store. I can see her fidgeting, shifting her weight back and forth. She glances my way and gives me the “what is taking so long” look as she rolls her eyes. I shrug and smile. She turns back around. I notice she doesn’t have much in her cart.

After the person in front of her is finished, the cashier asks, “How is everything today?” Of course the cashier had no way of knowing what was coming next. This woman begins to unleash a verbal onslaught about everything that is wrong with the way the cashier is doing her job, the way the store is being managed, how she couldn’t find anything she was looking for, and basically how she could fix everything that is wrong in the world.

If this event would have happened a year ago, I would have kept my distance and tried not to engage this person. I would have chalked it up to some sort of mental illness or some issue she was having that didn’t concern me. Essentially, I would have minded my own business. I would have thought, “What is wrong with this lady?” I would have said nothing.

But that was before.

I try to edge up closer. I move from behind my cart to the front of my cart. She is still carrying on. I catch a glimpse of the cashier who is trying to interject an apology, but isn’t making much ground. “Excuse me. . .” I’m almost yelling but the women stops to take a breath. “It seems like you are having a rough day. What happened?”

She looks at me quizzically, and then I can see tears welling in her eyes. She’s not yelling any more, but her pain is speaking volumes: “My mother is near the end of her life, and I’m trying to get back to the hospital,” she said.

“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I say. “Is there anything I can do?”

“No. But thank you for asking,” she says. “My husband passed away last year, we had no children and she is the last of my family.” As she continues talking, the cashier rings her up and before I know it, she is pushing her cart out the door.

As I make my way out to my car, I notice her waiting outside. She stops me. “I am so sorry for yelling. I knew I shouldn’t come to this store, it always makes me upset.” This makes me smile. “I don’t think it’s the store; sometimes we are all under stress that no one else understands and it makes us do things we wouldn’t normally do.” She reaches out to hug me. “Thank you for understanding.”

You may or may not fully understand what I did that day — or why. You may question whether or not you’d have the balls — or compassion. Some people naturally engage with others; it takes some work for the rest.

How can we possibly heal trauma in line at the grocery store? One interaction at a time. You really want to make a difference? Say something. Say something with care. Or simply engage.

I shared this story with an acquaintance and she confessed she had a note next to her laptop that reads:

Lady in FF Oct. 15 (Tues.), 2013: “I just wanted to say thank you for making me smile and thank you for reminding me what’s important in life.” All my acquaintance had done was happily engage with a child who did not belong to either woman in line at the store. It can be so simple.

People in pain sometimes act out in aggressive (or passive) ways. Some have so much trauma that they don’t even know the way they feel isn’t “normal.” They may have been infected for so long that they actually start to feel trapped by their own emotions, which come out in all sorts of ways — most of which make no sense to the waiting judgment of others.

But you can do something to help them heal. You can remind them that better times are possible. They don’t need judgment; they need compassion and empathy. They need to know someone believes in them and that they are worthy of love.

You might have the chance to do that the next time you’re in line at the store.

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