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Posts Tagged ‘strangers’

I suspect the most we can hope for, and it’s no small hope, is that we never give up, that we never stop giving ourselves permission to try to love and receive love. (Elizabeth Strout)

I am tossing two-for-one-sale whole-grain tortillas into my cart when a woman behind me speaks.

“Those are really good.” Her musical twang signals more than enthusiasm. She wants to talk. At first she tells me about baking sun-dried tomato tortillas and serving them as snacks. Then she says she is a southern girl with down-home ways and opens the stories of her past.

For a change my agenda doesn’t have the feel of a block of frozen spinach, leaves frozen together so that the pieces can’t be separated from one another. As long as this pause doesn’t turn into a filibuster I can handle it.

She tells me about her health and how she has overcome emphysema sufficiently to function without oxygen. “I’m 76 and a survivor.”

Her mini-memoir includes the story of her ex-husband’s mental abuse. “He told me that as long as he gave me food and a roof over my head he didn’t owe me anything else.” She has family and has given them love, even though their father could not. I nod when she mentions Women Helping Women. They made it possible for her to make her own way. She was in her sixties when she left her husband. I suspect there is more to her tale. Much more.

I want to reach out and touch her arm—but don’t. My nod says that she made the right choice, whatever that involved. A touch could signal the pain that brought her to seek survival. Moreover, I don’t know her. Instead I step back, just a little, not out of avoidance, but respect.

Besides, I am only a stranger in a large grocery store. Did this woman stop other shoppers also? Did they listen, or did they look at her as if she had two heads with three mouths? I have never seen this woman before this moment, and may never see her again. Probably all she wants is the reassurance that she has strength, that it shows in her being. Somehow. She never asks for my name, nor does she offer hers.

“Peace,” I say. “Have a blessed day.”

I pray for her now—days later. May she no longer need to rely on strangers for support. May she have people with her that she can count on. Perhaps I could have done or said more, offered to pray with her—right there. I’m not sure I would have had that much courage. It would have been less embarrassing if she ran away, than if she decided to shout alleluia in the middle of the bakery department. Perhaps I haven’t arrived at perfection in any form just yet.

Thanks to all my friends, the ones with the huge shoulders and the fine-tuned ears. I am grateful for our shared laughter and tears.

feel what I feel

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