It’s amazing how a little kindness can open someone’s heart

“We cannot say the exact moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, at last there is a drop that makes it overflow; so in a line of kindnesses there is finally one that makes the heart skip a beat.” ~ Ray Bradbury

I have a weekly ritual of stopping by a small Vietnamese market near our home. Thursday is delivery day for Lady Finger bananas, these are cute little bananas from Mexico.

When I first visited the shop, the short, dark-haired proprietor behind the counter remarked quite sternly, “Just bananas, that’s it!” She would cradle them and extend her hand, and I would dutifully pay, hoping that my little purchase wouldn’t irritate her any further.

After a few months I asked her her name. “Mary,” she answered abruptly. I decided it was best not to burden her with mine.

As the months went by, I always made sure to say, “Hi Maria!” and “Bye Maria!”

There was a younger man behind the counter one day and as this is a family business I assumed it could be one of their sons. When I asked where his mother might be, he explained that she was taking a few days off.

As we started chatting, he opened up about how stressful the grocery store can be for her. “But I always tell her Mom, you have to be nicer to the customers. You can’t yell at her!”

I decided to continue my search to befriend Maria. One day I brought her banana bread with my little bananas. I handed the small bread across the counter. She cocked her head and asked, “What’s that for?” I explained that I just wanted to thank her for selling me so many bananas. I think she thanked me, but maybe not.

On a cold December morning, she looked unusually depressed. When I asked her how her day was going, she quietly replied, “My eldest son is dying.”

I let her know how sorry I was and brought her a card and another loaf of bread the next time I visited. This time she thanked me with a hint of a smile.

I often felt like she didn’t know what to do with my gestures of gratitude and concern, but over the months she stopped chiding me for just buying bananas. One day she made my purchase even sweeter by asking, “Your name?” “Priscilla,” I replied, proudly carrying my sack to the door.

Winter passed and spring came, bringing relief to our small Colorado town. As I approached the shop, a sign on the door read, ‘We are closing early this morning and will be closed over the weekend.’ Their younger son was standing behind the counter and I politely asked why they were closing.

“My father died yesterday.” Once again I offered my condolences.

Soon Maria was back looking thin and tired. As I handed her my bananas to be weighed, I said how sorry I was to hear from her husband. I pulled my credit card out of my wallet and saw a green and white Starbucks gift card behind it. I reached over the counter and offered the small gift to Maria.

“Would you buy yourself a tall cup of warm tea knowing it’s from me?” As I turned to leave, I heard her say softly, “Wait.” She came around the counter and held out her arms to take it we could hug her. We held on. After a few years I had found a new friend.

It’s amazing how a little kindness can open someone’s heart.

It’s amazing how a little kindness can open someone’s heart

About Priscilla Dann-Courtney

Priscilla Dann-Courtney is a writer and clinical psychologist based in Boulder, where she and her husband raised their three children. She has been in private practice for 30 years, treating both adults and adolescents. Her areas of expertise include eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety and stress management, addiction, grief and loss, life transitions, and relationship issues. Her columns have appeared nationally and her book Room to Grow, Stories of Life and Family was her way of navigating the light, dark and wonders of life.

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