While at the grocery store yesterday, I casually noticed two women chatting next to the salad bar. They appeared to be friends who ran into each other while shopping. When I approached, the younger of the two left, leaving the older woman alone. The woman appeared to be in her late 70’s and seemed rather pleasant. As I worked my way around the various salad accoutrements, the woman followed me, commenting on the quality of the produce, raving about the weather, and sharing her secret ingredient for ambrosia salad.
I noticed she didn’t have a container, which I thought was a bit odd, but we continued to talk as I made my way to the croutons. By this point, my salad was complete and I was ready to go, but it was clear that the woman still wanted to chat. I made some additional small talk and then wished her a good evening. As I walked toward the bakery, I noticed she began speaking with another woman at the salad bar. I felt badly for the woman. Was she lonely? Was she okay? Should I have spent more time speaking with her? I asked Terry Fries-Maloy, our Care Coordinator, if I should have done anything differently in this situation.
Many of us have been in this situation, whether it’s in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, in line at the bank or, as in your case, at the salad bar – a person we don’t know strikes up a conversation with us…whether we have the time and desire to talk with them or not. How to handle such an event is our choice. We can ignore. We can move away silently to another location. We can engage in brief conversation with the individual. Or we can take the amount of time it takes to really listen and get to know the individual.
It is impossible to know the woman’s life circumstances without taking a significant amount of time to sit with her and get to know her. Yes, maybe she is lonely. Or maybe she is taking a medication that causes her to be anxious and this is displayed through her chattiness. Or maybe she has a mental illness that impairs her ability to limit her social interactions. Or maybe she just loves people and wants to share a little of herself with each person she meets.
In the scene you describe, it appears that you did have a little time to spend with the woman to listen to her and provide some casual conversation. We all have the need to be heard and recognized and it appears you provided a bit of that for her. For her, you may have been the kind stranger who gave her a little ‘lift’ in her day by taking some time to talk with her.
I suspect that the employees at the grocery store know this lady and that she visits them (and the salad bar) regularly. If you have concern for her well-being, you certainly could alert someone at the grocery store, possibly the manager, who will likely know a little more about her. If you meet up with her again at the grocery, you may want to say hello and let her know that you remember her. You may even want to invite her for a cup of coffee and sit for a bit at the café in the grocery store if you have the time and desire.
Unfortunately, most of us lead very busy lives and have little time to share with others who are outside of our own circle of family and friends. Sometimes the best we can do for a stranger is to show them a little kindness and attention ‘in the moment.’ Your sharing of a kind word, a sincere smile, a listening ear, if only for a brief interaction, can be one of the bright spots in someone’s day – and that someone may be you!