I’ve been doing the majority of my grocery shopping at Aldi for almost a year now. I started shopping there in an effort to lower our monthly grocery budget, and boy, has it worked! I’ve nearly cut our monthly expenditure on groceries in half. I still occasionally shop at Trader Joe’s, Kroger, and The Fresh Market (with very, very occasional visits to Earth Fare), but Aldi has become my go-to grocery destination.
Not only am I spending a lot less on groceries, but shopping at Aldi is extremely efficient. I never have to wait in a long line with an antsy child. I’m in and out.
But there’s another reason I’ll continue shopping at this discount grocery store. I’m not exaggerating here when I say that Every. Single. Time. I shop at Aldi, someone (and oftentimes multiple people) reach out to help me. Yesterday I was heading over to the entrance to retrieve a cart with the requisite quarter in hand* when an older gentleman with a thick European accent said, “Here! Please take my cart!”
When I tried to offer him my quarter, he waved it away with a smile. I profusely thanked him, and he nodded. and said, “Of course!”
Likewise, ninety-nine percent of the time when I’m checking out with just *one* baby (grocery shopping with only one sidekick is easy-peasy these days because I once had a full entourage in tow), the person behind me automatically starts helping load groceries onto the conveyor belt.
The cashiers are always kind as well. They look you in the eye, and I look right back. My husband, who occasionally hits the grocery store for our family, has had similar experiences at Aldi. He agrees that the shoppers there just seem nicer and more, well, human.
So often I’ll find myself running errands, and I feel like there are only robots in my midst. Life can just feel so impersonal. I’m on social media, encouraging someone I’ve never met or offering my prayers, and there’s certainly value in that, but it’s lacks the human connection and community. What always surprises me is that even out in the world interactions often feel impersonal. There are so many people on autopilot, eyes half-mast, glued to their phones or chatting on the phone; they’re just going through the motions impervious that they’re walking straight through a sea of humanity.
Sometimes, too, there’s blatant rudeness. I’ve witnessed detached, cold exchanges between cashiers and a shoppers where the shopper doesn’t even look the cashier in the eye, and the cashier sighs and just tosses the food down the line. People either seem disappointed to be where they are at that moment, or they don’t even seem to really be there at all.
Then I’ll cautiously enter the fray of Twitterdom or skim the morning headlines. Or I’ll see someone on social medial bitingly criticizing the words of someone else – a fellow human being, mind you, and not some rote word processor, and I wonder if there’s any hope for humanity at all.
Where’s the kindness for our neighbor? Where’s just simple courtesy – looking people in the eye when interacting with them? Where’s the wisdom to keep your words to yourself on social media unless you have something nice to say or unless speaking up really might make a difference and be a call to action?
Yesterday after I loaded my groceries and happy Charlie into my minivan, I started to weep in gratitude for the people I had encountered at Aldi. And I assure you these were not crocodile tears or hormone-induced. I’m not pregnant (I would be puking and not eating as I am currently voraciously doing); nor has my cycle even returned. I just found a whole lot of Advent joy in a task as mundane as grocery shopping.
Maybe whenever I’m tempted to despair over the state of our world, the vitriol online, the fighting among Christians, Buddhists whose moral precept to not kill is held above all others persecuting and yes, killing Muslims, the political landscape that has left my husband and me completely disillusioned, and even the sibling fights that break out in my own home, I ought to pay a visit to Aldi because there’s bound to be someone there who reassures me that all is not lost and restores my faith in humanity.
My grocery shopping adventures at Aldi remind me that there are ample people who care. And these people come from myriad backgrounds and are different ages and ethnicities. These shoppers seem aware that this food errand isn’t just about commerce or feeding themselves or their families. It’s an opportunity to interact with fellow human beings. They stop and talk to Charlie. They say, “Excuse me,” when they need to get by me although I find it freeing that Aldi doesn’t present me nearly as many choices (thus, I’m not as likely to be at a standstill staring at the array of food products before me and blocking the way of other shoppers). There are simply plain, old-fashioned toasted oat cereal, not fifty different flavors. Do we really need Dulce de Leche Cheerios? The tyranny of choice at other grocery stories paralyzes my sweet husband. He has told me will just stand in an aisle contemplating the plethora of options and when he finally chooses one, he wonders if it was the right choice, or if another choice might have been wiser.
The grocery options at Aldi might be more narrow, but the human medley is not. I always encounter a beautiful, diverse tapestry of people while shopping there. Old and young. Parents and grandparents. People born and raised in the USA (I assume). People with different cultural backgrounds. Different religions, I surmise. Different skin colors. And none of it matters. I experience a heart-constricting awareness that kindness and respect and colorblindness can be found in the aisles of a discount grocery store of all places. Good souls reside in so many different incarnations. I will not be stingy with my kindness. I will not be blind to someone God puts in front of me – whether this person worships differently than I do or not at all, whether he was born in America or immigrated here, whether she’s a college student or a retiree.
How can there be room in the inns of our hearts during Advent and Christmas time if prejudices, racism, judgment, or even mild annoyance or just distraction (that serenade of our phones should never be louder than the call to connect with our fellow human beings) occupy the same space? Is now the time to break down the walls we may have even unknowingly slowly erected in our own hearts? Walls don’t inspire hope.
Now before lest anyone assume I’m a natural Kumbaya-kind-of-person, it’s sadly just not so. Only recently I was pondering some of the judgmental things I had been saying earlier in the week about different people – one of them my very own brother, who, yes, has a drug addiction and continues to hurt me and my family and who doesn’t need to be enabled. But he also doesn’t need to be completely severed off from my compassion. He makes bad choices over and over again. But I can’t deny his dignity. I can’t deny anyone’s dignity. I am passionately pro-life, pro-human. I recognize the dignity and honor in a person from her moment of conception to death – whether she produces anything the world sees as worthwhile or not, whether she’s an addict or not, a jerk or not. I tell others I am feminist, not because I think men and women are the same, but because I believe their share equal dignity. I say black lives matter because all lives matter, and also because I am a white American who has lived a life of privilege. I have compassion for the women who are just now speaking up about sexual abuse that happened long ago because I have been a victim of it as well and have never spoken up until this very blog post and secretly with my husband, wondering if it was somehow my fault. I never wanted to be victim. I’ve always despised people who pull the victim card; yet, I am seeing now that you can’t deny being victimized. You don’t have to be stuck in your hurt or use it as an excuse to not live a full life. But you also can’t deny it ever happened or blame yourself because it did. You give it a voice. You acknowledge the pain, the shame (which you shouldn’t have felt in the first place, but you can’t help it, can you?), and then you move on and do your best to replace those shameful, hurt, and hidden pieces of you with love and compassion for yourself and for others – including the very ones who created those wounds.
The cross – my cross as a Christian – is a great equalizer. Jesus was born into a broken world and then died for the very people we hate or can’t understand or the ones who have wounded us deeply.
Christ came for every single shopper at Aldi. He came for you. He came for me.
Advent is about making room in my heart for Jesus, but He can’t occupy a bitter, judgmental, distracted, and hardened heart. I was feeling stressed this morning with all I had to do after a weekend out of town for a family wedding. I was also just feeling a little down because the kids and I were all tired and snappy with each other this morning.
I didn’t feel like doing laundry or grocery shopping, but it had to be done. So there I was at Aldi, and that’s where I discovered my own manger where Christ came alive. He was found in the smiles of strangers, in the man who gave me his cart and refused my quarter in exchange for it, in the cashier who said, “Have a great day!” and I said it back, and I meant it.
God doesn’t choose favorites but if He did, I suspect He might be shopping right along with me at Aldi.
(And, no, this is in no way an Aldi-sponsored post, but I like to think it might be a Jesus PSA. Come, Holy Spirit!)
*For those of you who aren’t familiar with Aldi, you have to insert a quarter to get a shopping cart. You then get a quarter back when you return the cart.