"You Dropped Your Lemon!": COVID, Kindness, & The New Normal

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It’s not hard to quantify the big things we all sacrificed over the last 19 months as we’ve endured (and endured, and endured) a global pandemic. School, time with family, celebrations, holidays — the things we lost in each of these arenas are easy to identify, painful as they may be. But when the shock of those things wore off and I started to get back into some of my old routines, I began to notice some of the smaller things we lost. Things that hadn’t quite returned yet.

These things range from sort of big to really small, though they’re all pretty fleeting. A lot of them were moments I used to share with people I didn’t know. Holding the door for a stranger as I enter the post office or having someone hold the door for me. Seeing people’s smiles. Making eye contact with others on the street. Small talk with the other parents at school. Shaking hands with someone when I meet them.

Then, there was this really small thing. Something that’ll sound too specific at first but if you think about it, you’ll realize it really did happen to most of us before. When someone at the grocery store was leaving the checkout lane and they forgot or dropped something, usually — no, always — someone else would notice, pick the thing up, and run after them. “Ma’am!” they might call. “You dropped this lemon!” And the woman would reach out her hand, and she’d grab the lemon and say something like, “Oh, thank you — I wouldn’t have wanted to get home and realize I didn’t have that!”

I know it sounds specific, doesn’t it? But think about it — you’ve seen it happen, haven’t you? I know I did. And then I didn’t, because all of a sudden we weren’t going into the grocery store. We were picking things up curbside. Or, when we did go in, we were staying so far from each other we didn’t engage much. I remember avoiding people’s gazes, like I didn’t know what to do or how to feel, and I especially didn’t know how to act.

"I rushed back and she looked at me sheepishly above her mask. “Usually I would have picked it up for you, but, ya know.” A bottle of hand sanitizer sat between her and the register, a reminder that we still don’t touch each other, or each other’s things."


But then something happened. People started to make sense of how to interact within our new world. The barriers came down a little; we started being able to have our groceries on the same belt at the same time again, even if we were still masked. And then I saw it — like an old familiar friend. I was leaving the line and dropped something without realizing it. Someone called after me.

“Ma’am,” she yelled. “You dropped your lemon!”

I rushed back and she looked at me sheepishly above her mask. “Usually I would have picked it up for you, but, ya know.” A bottle of hand sanitizer sat between her and the register, a reminder that we still don’t touch each other, or each other’s things.

I smiled, beamed really, behind my mask, as I picked up my lemon like a Little Leaguer on the ball field. “Thank you,” I said. “Wouldn’t have wanted to get home without that!”

Sure, it’s an altered version of what we had. But that tiny kindness — alerting someone they’re about to forget something that might be important to them — is something we’d all missed, probably without realizing it. It isn’t one of those big, quantifiable things. But it’s the stuff of community. The little threads that hold together the quilt that is our experience in the world. Slowly, I think, those little threads are going to emerge again. We’ll hold doors, we’ll make eye contact. Someday we might even pick up each other’s things again. Until then, at least we can call out to others, reminding each other we’re here.

Tags: Community

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Written By

Lauren Harkawik

Lauren Harkawik is an essayist, journalist, and fiction writer in Vermont, where she and her husband are raising their daughters. See Full Bio

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