NELDON: A little grace goes a long way during pandemic

Last weekend, I learned a life lesson in the middle of a grocery store.

With the sun shining bright and warm weather giving us the first tantalizing taste of summer, my mom and I decided to go on a drive to Simonton Lake Drive-In in Elkhart, where we could roll the windows down, feel the spring breeze and enjoy lunch at a safe social distance. On the way home, I realized there were some necessities I needed, and asked my mom to pull into a grocery store on the south side of Granger.

I am not one who enjoys grocery shopping on weekends even without a pandemic. I have little patience for inconsiderate people and, because I spent several years working in retail throughout college, I have a hard time not intervening when folks are rude with store employees. Add coronavirus to the mix, and I’m certain the market is no place I want to be on a Sunday afternoon — especially in a state not strictly limiting capacity.

Like all of you, I have heard horror stories of people shouting at each other over toilet paper, deliberately defying social distancing orders and blatantly disrespecting employees who are quite literally risking their lives to serve them. So, for the past several weeks, I have been ordering groceries to go, picking up my essentials outside — no human interaction necessary.

Nonetheless, I needed my items quickly, so I pulled on my mask, lathered on some hand sanitizer and went inside to quickly grab my items.

I was following the arrows, carefully maintaining distance from the handful of shoppers I had encountered. In this store, shoppers are forced to weave through narrow aisles before getting to the center of the store, where you find staples like bread, dairy and meat.

I wound my way to the opening, telling myself, “this isn’t so bad!” until I finally arrived in the meat department, where I looked up and saw dozens of people packed in like sardines, all wearing masks. Though I knew these shoppers and myself were safer for wearing the face coverings, the sight of so many wearing masks in one place was a staggering reminder of how drastically our world has changed.

Suddenly, my mask felt very tight, and I was sweating in the middle of the frozen food section.

“What have I done?” I think. Trying to remain calm, I looked to my left, and there was a giant cold case the size of the Walmart $5 movie bin full of Chobani Flips — 10/$10! I love Chobani Flips! This comforted me.

Kind of.

In some sort of panicked craze, I reached in and start picking out yogurt by the handful, busying my shaking hands. Everything from s’mores to peach cobbler to salted caramel yogurt was flung into the cart.

And then I sneezed. Thank you, spring trees in pretty Granger neighborhoods.

At this point I had grabbed several yogurts in flavors I didn’t like, but knowing I had no way to wash my hands before touching the yogurt to put it back in the bin, I was in quite the pickle. Panic ensued.

At some point, a gentleman approached the bin, looking at me like I was some deranged animal, which prompted me to look down into my cart.

Twenty yogurts for a woman who lives by herself. My name is Ambrosia Neldon, and I am an accidental hoarder.

I smiled nervously at the man (though I doubt he could tell, considering the mask covering my mouth), and hurried to the register, still quite shaken by the fear that had taken over.

If the teenager ringing up my cart full of panic buys was judging me, she made no indication of it. Instead, she pleasantly told me she liked my mask and chatted about a show she was watching on Netflix, clearly trying to distract me out of my panic attack.

Despite the fact that this young woman at least 10 years my junior must have put up with many cranky customers and worked through her own fear, she had the grace to treat me like a human being.

As I walked out of that grocery store, I realized that none of us know how to behave in these unprecedented times. Though the vast majority of us are doing our part to keep each other safe, the drastic change we have experienced is scary. As I learned, fear makes us do crazy things — even things we have judged others for.

However, as a teenage cashier in that Granger grocery store taught me, we can all get through this together.

All it takes is a little grace.