The other day we went out on our lunch to eat at the Red Kettle and then run a few errands around town. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm but with enough crisp that the air was still bright when you breathed it in. We went to the post office to mail some video games to Brock and Neil to the pharmacy to pick up some miscellany and to the grocery store to pick up a few last minute items for Korean night with the Tates.
We ran in and picked out some quality bulgogi meat and walked over to the checkout. Of course, being that it is a small town, a tourist town and also during the middle of the day at the lunch hour, there was only two lanes open. We went through what we deemed to be the shortest, behind two other women. The First Woman was checking out, oblivious to others around her and lingering over a cell phone conversation, impeding the progression of our line. The Second Woman, clearly on a lunch break from working, exhasperated began to comment with short, annoyed frustrations. She “hates when people talk on their cells while checking out.” She “hates when people think they’re the only ones with things to do.” She “hates when people don’t think that our lives are worth as much time as theirs.” (She had started out just commenting to anyone who would listen and at this point she was talking directly to us.) “We may live a simple life here but it’s our life.” Each minute she got a little shakier, her speech wavering a little more, her manner a little more hysterical. We were a bit bemused and smiled away any awkwardness present, Ada as oblivious as the first woman, just beamed an eight toothed smile at her.
Finally the first woman left…still chatting on as though nothing had happened. Had she even heard? Had she even noticed anything happening?
The Second Woman, as though she had just realized herself, apologized embarrassedly to us. We assured her there was nothing to be embarrassed about (why make her feel worse?) and just laughed it off as another rich tourist. She left in a hurry.
We paid for our purchase and walked out into the beautiful day again. While Dylan was strapping Ada into her carseat, the Second Woman came up to us with teary eyes. She apologized over and over for her behavior within the store, trembling all the while, trying to hold back a barrage of tears. Again, we assured her that everyone has days like that and it was okay. We weren’t offended or embarrassed. We weren’t mad or upset with her for ruining our outing.
She started crying.
She said, “I have fibromyalgia and lupus. And on top of that I have a migraine. And today is just a bad day. A really bad day…” Dylan touched her on the shoulder, she trembled a little more. “I don’t usually act this way. I’m just in a lot of pain. I…” She went on. We sat, waited for her to finish, to compose herself. She had already exposed herself to us so much. And all we did was pause.
We put our lives on hold for just a few seconds and were able to talk to a woman we would’ve likely never met or been touched by. It seems so trivial an experience, something inconsequential. And yet, ever since, the memory lurks in the back of my mind. When she comes up, I pray for her. For peace and healing, for strength and courage and we thank God that he sucker-punched us with a lesson on compassion. To not just look at other people as “just people,” but people we should open our eyes and hearts to. To take the extra step to listen to others and to not just listen, but to hear. To really hear what they’re saying and to see what’s really behind their words.
Being one person in a such a large world is a scary thing. We compensate this by creating networks of family and friends around us who love and teach us. And yet, how is that after creating such elaborate lives for ourselves, that we feel lonely? Empty? God is the only one that can fill that void, that can comfort us when the world seems to be throwing all that it can at us. Faith is the only way that we can see through to the end with a joyful peace. And it’s those that have this joyful peace, that have accepted it, are called to share with the world. Not in an obnoxious, legalistic manner, but in one imbued with the power and healing presence of the Holy Spirit.
The Second Woman pulled herself together enough to thank us for listening and to apologize just one more time. We said goodbye, wished her well, waved and drove home.