The Grocery Stories: Quantum physics kindness

How do I account for what I’m experiencing at work: this quantum leap toward good in everyone’s demeanor — including my own?

It turns out that, maybe, practicing kindness more often in this hectic year has spread to others quicker than previously thought. ADOBE

What I know about quantum physics wouldn’t fill a small grocery bag.

On a very primitive level, I understand it is the study of the relationship between energy and light, and how everything — down to the bits and particles of energy that constitute each of us — affects everything else.

I’ve been thinking a lot about quantum lately. I’m not sure if it’s me or if I am part of some collective shift in thinking or in behavior. But lately I’m seeing the transfer of energy and light between us.

From my microcosm of the world — the grocery store where I work as a clerk — the behavior of customers and my interactions with them are different, possibly as some consequence of quantum.

I began to notice this behavioral shift shortly before Thanksgiving when I was hearing more “Yes, please” in response to questions and many more thank yous. I hear appreciation in my customers’ voices. “Thank you for going to look for this,” or “Thank you for your help.”

One night, shortly before the store closed, I was working at a register — a time many of us dread because of all the last-minute shoppers. My colleague Jen, who was bagging for me, and I got to talking with this couple who had a large order with many duplicate items. As we talked, we learned that in a few days, on a Thursday, they planned to marry.

Given the pandemic, they had rethought their wedding celebration and decided to host a small gathering outside in the yard. They were doing all the cooking.

We laughed and teased the groom-to-be with “Jeopardy”-style questions about his betrothed to make sure they were a good match. I suggested that they have at least a few wedding photos edited in black and white.

“That’s a good idea,” the groom said.

Before they paid, I found a beautiful bouquet, and my manager agreed that we could gift the flowers to the couple. They had such gratitude and told us the flowers would be the centerpiece on the table.

How good it felt to do good, to spread good.

Since then, I continue to hear gratitude in my customers’ voices. I see it in their eyes, the glisten that lets me know they are smiling behind their masks.

Since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when my work transformed me from a grocery clerk to a front-line worker, I read the news headlines and had my own experiences within the challenging arena of supermarkets. My colleagues and I — and anyone consistently working face-to-face with the public — have had to become modern-day warriors for good.

Knowing about the spike in infections is part of our uniform. Like sentries, we monitor behaviors like social distancing and practices like masking with both the nose and mouth covered. We stand guard for the safety of everyone in our stores and offices.

So how do I account for what I’m experiencing at work: this quantum leap toward good in everyone’s demeanor — including my own?

Is it because coronavirus cases and deaths in our local communities and nationally are staggering and on our radar each day? Are people feeling more grateful to be alive? Do they realize that they are blessed to be able to shop and pay for food when so many millions of people living in this country are lost in grief, unemployed, hungry, losing their homes?

Is it because vaccines are here? That there is hope that a fresh administration will lead us out of this crisis? Perhaps because the holidays are upon us? Or could it just be that we all are fatigued by feeling angry or afraid? That we want to feel joy?

My friend Kirsten told me she bought outdoor lights for the first time in her life and decorated the exterior of her home for Christmas.

“I’m scratching around for ways to feel positive and reflect that to others,” she said.

Me too. See my American Express charges for strings of LED multicolor lights.

See the smile on my face when a neighbor tells me that my lights encouraged her to put up hers, or the text from my across-the-street neighbor who messaged, “Your lights look great. I love looking out at them!”

As for my work at the store, I have only anecdotes about what I’m witnessing. I barely passed advanced chemistry — forget physics — because of my patient high school science teacher, Mr. Koob, who understood that my mind was not wired in that way. (Thank you, Mr. Koob.)

Still, this is what I do understand because I am seeing and experiencing it: In that quantum kind of way, our thoughts and actions beget more, mirror more. Energy spreads, just like light waves.

If my customers act in a positive way, it impacts me. I, in turn, absorb the good, the kind, the funny, and it gets planted so that I begin anticipating good experiences, exchanges, outcomes. And more, this cumulative rolling wave of benevolent good reminds me to think even more about my choices, about ways to be more generous in thought — even when the occasional curmudgeon comes my way.

I am donating more patience to customers who complain that they cannot bag their own orders. I gently remind them about social distancing and, when they hear it, they nod in understanding, stand farther away, sometimes apologize. I laugh more easily with customers. From behind the Plexiglass shield, I occasionally talk food and share recipes with shoppers.

“Thank you” and conversations about cooking artichokes, a wedding couple returning to the store and showing you their wedding portraits in black and white and sharing how they had enough food to send everyone home with a doggie bag — all are rolling waves of benevolent good.

In the final weeks of this challenging year and the flip of the calendar, I feel freer and lighter, and so are my particles. I wish you the same.

Mary Ann D’Urso’s column appears regularly in the Globe.

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