This woman I know was having a tough week. A tough couple of years really. Then COVID swooped in with a giant hammer and sorta whacked in a few extra nails in the coffin of joy and personal freedom… You know, of course you do.
So when the 5km limit was lifted it became possible for this woman to get to a Cork shopping centre. She wanted to stock up on a few bits that just aren’t available in rural shops – so YAY! The excitement! Off she went, hopeful of a joyous adventure, freedom, autonomy – she was excited, and fearless. For the first times in months.
But then, like a lot of us, the reality of the new normal hit as soon as she arrived at the shopping centre. There was no feeling of safety. There was a smell of fear. Everything was different. Many people were in masks. And far more terrifying – many other people weren’t. Social distancing seemed a distant memory. People hurried past sanitisers without using them – touching their faces, wiping their noses, well – you get the picture. You’ve seen it.
It all felt more than a bit risky.
Her old friend anxiety was triggered. A sensible reaction as anxiety often is. She needed out – but she also needed to get her supplies. Which need would win this battle?? Torn, she stood by the trolley area outside Dunnes and there he was – the dote.
The trolley guy.
He smiled over at her – did she want a trolley? She wasn’t sure yet and that was fine by him. This guy was in no rush and wasn’t going to hassle her. This was not a creepy smile. It didn’t seem fake either. She felt a brief flash of sad that she checked for these two things first. But no, he was just smiling. He was singing to himself, giving that smile to everyone as he greeted them, gave them trollies or took their returns – risking his own safety with unfailing and sparkly, contagiously good humour.
She marvelled at his choice. She understood in that moment that it was a choice. This guy was choosing happiness while doing a repetitive, what would be for many, boring, and for many more – a very risky job.
So she moved forward to Mr I-Choose-Joy and accepted the offer of a trolley this time. He smiled again, and up close it felt like the sun. She basked for a few seconds and steered towards the unmasked masses, already kinda looking forward to bring it back to him when she was done. She was feeling safer somehow, breathing more easily, focussed on her shopping list.
She chose calm. And she noticed herself doing it.
She was more aware of the masked people now. And the ones being patient and social distancing. Funny how the things we notice change according to our mood. But this is natural I told her – when our fear is activated of course we don’t notice what is going well. Do we notice how many times we cross a road safely? Or do we focus on that one time a driver seemed distracted… Do we remember our days’ positive feedback as we settle down to try to sleep at night? Or are we more likely to replay that one thing someone said that stung?
It’s called Negativity Bias, it’s a bitch, and we all suffer from it. But it has evolutionary value so we’re stuck with it for a few more generations or so – sorry to say!!
Her face glowed with fondness as she told me from that day on, she would always remember this man and his attitude. She would try to remember to choose joy, and she’d try to pass it on. She was given a gift too big not to share.
I thought – hmmmm – maybe I should head to Dunnes in Douglas Court some day if I need a shot of happy! But for now, she gave me a super dose and it lasted all day. How easy it is to pass this stuff on – one might say it was infectious, if one was inclined to make viral references mid pandemic…
We just never know the effect we can have on a person. There’s a man who organises trolleys, who smiled at a woman I know. And now, forever, she will summon his image to her consciousness when she feels anxiety rearing its ugly, familiar face and she will calm herself. Because of him. And I will also think of him, even though I’ve never met him, and probably never will.
Wouldn’t it be great if he knew?! Yes. But it’s OK that he doesn’t. Actually, in a way, it makes it even more special.