Today I put on a baseball cap and sunglasses and went to the grocery store. It's Saturday. Like most Americans who work too much, I have too much to do in too little time. I was breathlessly clicking off a list in my head. As I walked toward the store, a small voice shook me out of my selfish preoccupation. "Honey? Honey?"
The source of the voice was an elderly woman slumped over a grocery cart. I looked in her direction and she smiled. "Can you help me up the hill?" she asked. I walked over to her, put my arm around her, with the other arm I pushed the cart. Together we braved the hill and wind.
Did you walk here? I asked. Yes. Do you want a ride? No. I like the exercise. I'm 84 years old. I marveled at her glowing skin and I told her so. I feel so tired, I confessed, feeling a little ashamed because I am half her age.
She told me to eat liver and green bananas. Then she hugged me, and held on for quite a while. It was the nicest hug I'd had in a long time. With no agenda. I once read that we need eight hugs a day just to maintain good mental health. For healing, much more are required. I'm definitely in a deficit.
I slowed down and attempted to enjoy the mundane. So much of my life is wasted hurrying. As I left the store, a man with blue-black skin and sad eyes asked me for money. I looked deep into his eyes and I did not look away, I told him I did not have money to spare. He looked deep into my eyes with love, grateful for the connection. I felt strangely comforted.
I drove away and the irony hit me. I was trying to be invisible when I went to the store. Two people - who society regularly treats as though invisible - caused me to slow down. And the ultimate irony - how can it be that there are so many people in the world and yet so many are lonely? Maybe these two were angels. They definitely caused me to pause.
Update 1/14/10: Due to the severe economic climate, the grocery store described in this story has closed. There are many seniors living near there in a HUD building. Most don't have cars. I cannot help but wonder how they get their groceries now.