The woman ahead of me in the Target check-out line is digging through her large, brown purse while her young child sits in the cart seat, closer to me. I look at her and wonder “Is she one of them? Is she one of the ‘closet supporters’ the media has been talking about?” Everyone seems suspect on this blustery post-election November day. The people in my community who undoubtedly made the unthinkable happen feel foreign to me. Questions abound— who can I trust? As an educated, liberal female in a red state, am I physically safe? Will two of my closest friends, who happen to be lesbians, still be legally protected against discrimination? If I write about my political ideals, which I never have before, or talk frankly about the election with the composition students I teach, do I risk being subjected to overt hate and sexism? I feel adrift with these concerns—those I thought were resolved back in a bygone era.
I browse the magazines with large print headlines and the little boy in front of me drops the toy he’s been given to help pacify the boredom of shopping. Without thinking, I pick it up and hand it back.
“Here you go, honey,” I say, smiling.
He reaches happily for the toy with slow, open starfish hands.
“Thanks so much,” his mother says.
“Oh, I know what that’s like,” I say. “I’ve got four children of my own.”
She smiles and appears genuinely grateful. “It’s so nice of you,” she says while walking back to the cashier to pay.
“No problem,” I reply, as I mentally assess the list of items I’d come to purchase vs. the ones that are actually in my cart. My life goes on, even in this post-election fog. I reach into my coat pocket and check the time on my iPhone. Twenty minutes until I pick up the boys from school, I guess I’ll call my sister about her mammogram results on the way.
I look up briefly at the lady as she walks away and think, “She’s not a closet supporter. At least I hope not.”
I load my goods on the conveyor belt and regret not remembering my reusable shopping bags. Maybe none of it matters, these small contributions to aid Mother Earth, especially if the newly elected denies the scientific evidence of global warming.
The cashier gives me the total, “Hey, the lady ahead of you bought a $10 gift card for you,” scanning the barcode as I see my total come down.
“Really?!” I put my hand to my heart instinctively. “That’s so sweet of her! I can’t believe it.”
This unexpected gift from a stranger awakens me with a sense of genuine surprise and joy. I immediately feel a glimmer of hope in this sea of disappointment and confusion. In an instant, she had reminded me small acts of kindness to our neighbor are always at our disposal, regardless of who works in the Oval Office.
As I push the cart out of the store and into the parking lot, I see the women who’d given me the gift strapping her son into his carseat.
“Thank you so much! That is so kind of you! I truly appreciate it,” I say as I approach her.
“Of course,” she said. “Girls supports girls,” she said. “We women help each other.”
“It’s so important to have that feeling right now,” I say, as a quiver emerges in my throat. She nods and in this eye to eye recognition, I momentarily forget about who she might have voted for and linger, instead, on her kindness and our shared connection as women and mothers.
Once back in my car, I sit down in the driver’s seat and burst into tears. I weep a long while, and for the first time release the shock and sadness of an election lost. Through my tears, I think of Gloria Steinem’s words, “That this [2016 election outcome] is a vote against the future, and the future is going to happen anyway.” Social justice, equality, and human evolution will be the future, regardless of the next few years.
Until then, these small but significant acts of kindness, like buying someone a gift card at Target, have the transformative power to shift the needle from negativity and hate toward our highest calling— love and compassion.