Sunday, December 16, 2012

Random Kindness


She shuffled into the check-out lane ahead of me.  I didn’t even notice her at first.

My busy mom thoughts were with double checking my Christmas to-do list and putting my items onto the conveyor belt  as quickly as possible.  I wanted to be prepared with my wallet out and ready to pay when my turn came.

I absent-mindly listened to her chat to the cashier about her frail husband, who she said was waiting for her in the car.

As time ticked on, my attention perked and I looked to see who was really in front of me and taking what I perceived as ‘too long’ of a time.

As she continued to talk to the cashier, I noticed that her probably once beautiful wool coat was faded and slightly fraying and hung about two sizes too big on her petite, four and a half foot frame.  Obviously elderly, she wore a deep ebony colored wig, which sat slightly askew and seemed more like a hat then a hair piece.  I instantly guessed her age to be somewhere around my own grandmother’s age of 87. 

Briefly, her glance met mine and she gave me a little apologetic smile, understanding that she knew it was taking too long as well. 

Sadness engulfed my being and my impatience immediately dissipated.  I didn’t want to be the source of making anyone feel bad, especially this grandmotherly figure.  I smiled brightly and said, “It’s ok.  I am in no hurry.” 

I watched as she shuffled over to the end of the aisle, a spot typically reserved for grocery store baggers and started to empty her overly large purse. 

For a moment, I wasn’t even aware of why she was looking through her bag.  I had been so caught up in my own thoughts that I while I was standing next to her, I wasn’t really present. 

“It’s in here.  I know I have a bill”, she said starting to sound a bit frantic.  “My husband is in the car.  He is waiting for me.  I know he gave me the money.”

The cashier looks at me and smiles with look that I interpret as an apology for having to wait.  I smile back in hopes of reassuring her that really, I am not in a hurry.

The elderly lady starts to moan and her worry spills over to nearly removing every item in her purse.  I can’t bear to look to see what she is carrying so I avert my eyes.  My heart starts to beat a little bit faster and I find myself wanting to do something.  Anything.

I quietly ask the cashier how much the woman owes.


Without thinking, I reach over to the cashier and offer one of the bills in my hand. 

“I’ll pay.”

The elderly woman hears and immediately understands what is happening.  She becomes more distraught and says she is embarrassed and that she must pay me back.  A store manager comes over  and gently starts putting her things back into her purse. 

Without looking at me, the store manager says, “Please let us take care of you because this is what Christmas is all about.”

My eyes become hot and my face feels flushed.  Instead of feeling good, I start to feel sick and all I want to do is leave the store. 

The cashier rings up my purchases and I pay for my own items all without saying anything.

Right before I leave, I gently touch the elderly woman’s arm, smile and say, “Merry Christmas.” 

She nods her head and murmurs, “oh, oh, oh” and shakes her head, overwhelmed that anyone would do this.  Even as I walk to the door, she continues to fumble.  I hear the manager quietly say, “Let’s go find your husband.”

Then, I run to the car, start the engine and drive about a ¼ mile down the road, where the tears finally win.  Picking up my cell phone, I call my husband and tell him the story. 

He listens intently and says he is proud of me for doing something so kind.  I don’t feel that way and tell him how sad I am.

Because from this moment of kindness, here is my stark realization: 

My mother, suffering from MS related dementia, often has the same paralyzing fear of forgetting and while we live 1,000 miles apart, I hope that people are kind to her too.

One day, it could be me as inevitably, I will age…

Or even this sadder, scarier truth (that I even have trouble typing into words on paper but as a parent to a parent, I know you will understand),

One day, it might be a daughter living with type 1 diabetes whom is suffering from a low blood sugar and in need of immediate, lifesaving help.

Will a kind stranger step in and help us?

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