You Are Not Alone

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Gift of Humility

On Thursday, I was trying to get to a Mommy group that was scheduled to start at eleven a.m., and was running behind. I picked up my lag and kicked into gear, packing the car at a fast pace until finally placing Colin in his car seat.

I sped through our townhome community up to the grocery store and made haste to pick up juice and snacks for the meeting. I hit a snag when I realized I didn’t have Colin’s cart cover, but shucked modern science and anxiety to the wind, swiped down the cart with an alcohol wipe, (that my local grocer so generously provides) and strapped him in.

With my Son secure, I began to navigate the grocery store near my home, (and subsequently, my home is near to a 55 and older community) dodging people in various advanced stages of life who were moving frustratingly slow through the store. I’d swerve past one elderly gentleman only to find myself slowed down by an elderly lady.

Most of the elderly people I passed paid me or my cart with child no heed. Sometimes, this strikes me as strange, because most; if not all elderly people glance at my child and smile with patient indulgence and fondness, as if they were gazing at their own grandchild. When this happens, I always slow, if not stop for these individuals because I enjoy the fawning over my little angel, but because I also feel love for these individuals who have grandchildren who either live out of state, or don’t visit often enough. I get a lot of smiles, and that makes me feel good too. Really, it’s a win-win situation, but on this particular morning, it seemed that there were a lot of dour faced elderly people shopping.

I had just rounded the corner from produce onwards toward meat when I came upon a car traffic jam involving six different carts. Five of those carts involved elderly people, one of which was manned by an elderly woman, stooped over her cart, hobbling with a limp, trying to make her way from dry goods to Seafood. I singled her out as the one to cause the most delay in untangling the jam, but she didn’t end up being the issue because, as if by some heavenly miracle, the carts parted and all of us were able to make our way to other destinations within the store. As I strode through the cleared path, frustrated and irritated, I brushed by the elderly woman leaning on her cart, limping as she passed, thinking of her as nothing more but another bothersome obstacle to the end of my rushed errand. I was on my way to my next stop in the store, as I heard her soft, warbling voice call the employee behind the counter by his name in a cheerful tone and ask him how he was doing.

At once, my heart softened as if it was warmed clay, and I felt ashamed. I had been thinking harsh, irritated thoughts about this woman. I had been thinking of her as a bother, a nuisance, and her soft voice echoed through my mental list, my inner clock, piercing it with her joy and kindness.

Whoever and whatever she may be to those who she calls family and friend in her life, she was a lesson in humility to me in that moment.

As her voice rang out, calling the store employee by name, asking him how his day was, I felt my steps slow measurably. She gave me a reproach, calm and a joy in my day. She helped me to remember the gratitude I feel for how solid, sturdy and young I still I am. In the space of a moment, she opened my eyes to the sweet baby I had sitting before me. The soft tenure of her voice echoed into my heart, and reverberated through years of her past and my future to show me that once upon a time, she was young and maybe carted babies through a store too.

I thought to myself, that once upon a time, she danced, laughed, kissed, cooked, frowned over lines on her face, fretted over gray hairs, cooked her family dinners they didn’t appreciate, told ribald jokes, tossed back some drinks, decorated her home for comfort and taste, confided in friends, felt alone and isolated and bewildered as a new Mother, remarked on every new tick, creak and pain with amusement, and then dismay as she grew older.

One day, when the heat was bearable, the sun was fine and bright, she strolled through the supermarket that had changed so much from when she was a girl, woman, wife and mother, and despite her limp and need to lean on a rather sturdy buggy, she was still able to shop on her own.

I imagine that the joy that she could shop on her own buoyed her much. She wasn’t in a home. She didn’t need a helper. She was still independent and spry and damn happy about it.

She humbled me in so many ways, and I don’t even know her name, but I dearly love her and am grateful to her for the example she showed me, and I’m sure she doesn’t even knows how she had changed my life, in that moment. If I happen to meet her again, I would like to tell her without embarrassing her, how much the very fact that she is who she is, and lives how she lives changed my heart, mind and life.

If we allow, it is those seemingly small moments that penetrate our daily lives, the rushed moments and remind us of our humanity, humility and how very grateful we can be for the lives we lead at this very moment.

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