The Unkindess of Strangers

She was about 25, 5’3 and stout.

She had three boys, approximately aged six, four and three.

She was stressed. Could you blame her?

Standing in the checkout line at Walmart recently, my heart went out to this woman who could have been me. Or you.

Her kids were screaming. Her nerves were on edge. People were staring. Oh, the shame.

When she inevitably snapped, all unfriendly eyes focused on her, as if to say:

so what are you going to do about this situation?”

As if on cue, she yelled at the top of her lungs:

Get back in the cart NOW or I will spank you so hard your head will spin!!

We all looked away, as if her edict had shamed each and every one of us, even though we weren’t the object of her scorn. We didn’t really hear that, did we?

It’s easy to be judgmental in situations like this. I found myself feeling mildly superior to her, at first. After all, I would never do such a thing in public, would I? I would never lose my cool like that, let alone threaten to spank my kids, especially within earshot of others. Would I?

Like many of us, I’d like to think that I wouldn’t, but who knows, really? More importantly, who knows what this woman’s situation is, and what has led her to feel so frazzled and stressed?

It’s interesting that this person who was clearly in need of some support, whether emotional or otherwise, was left to fend for herself and her kids in the sterile environment of my local discount department store. Perhaps her audience was literally petrified by their embarrassment; perhaps they felt that she was one of those women, and was not worthy of any assistance. “She’s probably receiving assistance from us already,” so many of them were likely thinking.

Shame on them. Shame on me.

I felt for her, but did nothing.


I was petrified into silence; yes, by my embarrassment, but also by my need to not be associated with her. After all, I had the small mercy of shopping alone on that particular day. My husband had our kids and I was running a quick errand, picking up laundry detergent and other household supplies. Perhaps she didn’t have a loved one that she could leave the children with while she shopped in peace. Perhaps her babysitter was unavailable for the day. Perhaps her partner was ill, and she chose to take the kids with her to make things easier. Ironically.

Regardless of the reason, we left her alone to flounder with her kids while we watched in silence and superiority. How sad.

Whatever possessed the inaction that took over my psyche on that day is irrelevant. I should have helped, whether it was a compassionate smile, or an offer to carry some of her bags while she dealt with her children. I did nothing, hoping that someone else would do something. Shame on me.

I did nothing, hoping that someone else would do something. Shame on me.

To all of us who look away when we should lend a hand, who smirk in smug silence in judgement of others when we ourselves are not perfect, shame on all of us. When faced with situations like this in future, lets hope that we collectively remember the adage about glass houses as well as loving thy brother – or sister – as we love ourselves.

To the woman in the Walmart – I’m sorry.


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