Inspired by some of Rob Walker’s ideas about The Art of Noticing, I have started a new practice that has helped me function in a very difficult place – Walmart.
As an introvert, I am often drained by crowds and as a burgeoning grumpy old man, I don’t like hassles and encountering difficult people and avoidable social irritations. So, I often avoid Walmart and its crowds and sensory overload and seek quicker and less intense locations.
But lately, I have begun visiting Walmart with a smile on my face. Not because I am naturally cheery or experiencing tremendous highs in my life but because smiling is a tactic against our fears and a salve against what can often be a rather sorrowful existence.
Has it made a difference? Has there been any noticeable effects to this practice?
Humorously, God has orchestrated strange encounters at the check out line that are hard to believe unless he had something to do with them. One time, I had someone, on a Saturday when the lines are the longest, notice that I had a few items compared to their basket and let me go ahead. Another time, someone apologized to me when they were holding up the line with all of their items. I said, “It is not a problem, you don’t come to Walmart on the Weekends expecting things to go quickly. I am fine.” Huh? Who is this guy and what are the words coming out of my mouth?
Another time, a lady with a patch over her eye and who has clearly experienced healthier days noticed that I was getting some ice cream. She started to chat with me about the ice cream and I told her how much our daughters like ice cream. She was so pleased that I was getting this for them and said,”Well, I am sure they appreciate what a good dad you are.” What? You don’t know me lady or my parenting skills but that sure was encouraging.
Last week, it was my turn to hold up the line. Why? Because the check out lady and I couldn’t stop telling each other to have a good day. First, she praised me for getting to Walmart early and I stated that it helps to plan out these things but Walmart isn’t that bad. She said, “No, it is really not. There are a lot of good people here.” Then I said my goodbyes and wished her a nice day. She followed up with “have a nice day” even though she had already said it when she loaded my last item in the bag and when she gave me the receipt.
That is just the check out line. Smiling changes my mindset enough in the hustle and bustle of the aisles that instead of expecting the worst experience coming around the corner to the next aisle I find myself expecting a chance to smile at someone, to offer courtesy, and to assist someone trying to get something off the top shelf. I don’t have a scowl on my face trying to figure out how to maneuver to the piece of real estate that is most advantageous to me but am willing to offer someone else the lead and the opening needed to get that one item in that one place.
Who knew that simply smiling would make such a difference?
This whole experience has reminded me of what is taught by James Bryan Smith,”I am one in whom Christ dwells and delights and I live in the strong and unshakable Kingdom of God.” And the gates of hell, or Walmart, shall not prevail against it.