Dating experts say women should pick up men in the grocery store, or maybe I’m just old-fashioned and that idea’s old school. I guess online dating, speed dating, and such may be more the way to to go nowadays, but for me?
I like the old ways.
That’s not surprising to anyone who knows me. Friends and family probably think I’d move them all back a few hundred years if I could, but, while I sometimes long for family life of the past, I know creating a romanticized version of our past is just as dangerous as creating a negative version.
Reality lies somewhere in between. I believe it is a fortunate few who recognize that and even fewer who can recognize that and still live in hope for the present and believe in the future.
That is the person I want to be, but I don’t always succeed. Every once in a while even I want to sink into anger, despair, or self-pity.
That’s why I’m so thankful I picked up a guy like Robert, who helped me remember the Blessings of my today and the hope that we can have a better tomorrow.
You see, yesterday, I was at the grocery store. Now, that may not seem like a big deal to a lot of people, but for those in the Northeast, shopping yesterday was a big deal. Stella was due to hit our region, and stores were jam packed with people prepping for the blizzard.
I invented my own parking space since none was to be found and began walking toward the entrance. The sky was still a clear blue and people scurried about. You didn’t have to be from here to know something was in the air!
I was happy and smiling and waiting…just waiting! I knew the snow would come. I can’t stand the cold and am not a big fan of snow, but there’s something about a good storm that excites the soul. There’s something about freshly driven snow that is clean and beautiful and purifying.
But as I walked through the parking lot, a woman let loose a stream of cuss words like you wouldn’t believe because someone had cut her off. I’d seen the whole thing. The other driver really wasn’t that bad, but the woman carried on and didn’t stop with the person who had cut her off either. That woman cussed out every person in she came across as she swaggered and strutted to the door. She cussed about everything, including people’s insanity for going to the store before a storm.
I wanted to point out she was shopping too. I wanted to tell her to shut her trap and remind her children were around. I wanted to tell her to chill out and zip it and all sorts of other things.
Instead, I kept my own mouth shut and gritted my teeth. I asked God for patience for myself and help for that crazy woman and whatever issues she had faced in her life to make her so angry – and so darn loud!
I went through the store. I waited on line with my cart heavily loaded. Some customers were happily shopping, seeming to celebrate the coming storm, and laughing at the insanity of the crowds. Others grumbled, as if made angry and miserable by long lines, bare shelves, and slow service as employees did their best to handle large numbers of shoppers.
We all had the same experience.
Some chose to handle it well.
Others chose to not handle it well.
I left the store thinking about that, got in my car, and started driving away. I still needed to get gas and milk. I still needed to get home and answer emails. I still needed finish my Embracing Joy video and newsletter for StrahlenGrace.com, my life coaching community. I still needed to go to my nephew’s basketball game. I had an entire list of things I still needed to do that day.
But as I pulled out of the parking lot and started to make the turn out of the shopping area, I saw him.
Robert was there on the side of the road. It would be easy to turn my back on him, to pretend I never saw him, to drive right on by, but I couldn’t.
There was a storm coming, and there he was shuffling along the side of the road, pushing his little red cart full of groceries up the hill.
I rolled my eyes. I groaned. I started to pull away but found my car drifting to the side. What was I doing? I must be crazy, but still… wouldn’t I want someone to help me if I needed it? Hadn’t so many others helped me already? Weren’t we put here to help each other? What good was my life if I lived it in perceived safety but never reached out to help a stranger in need?
I pulled over and before I knew it, I was unloading Robert’s groceries in my car and folding up his little red shopping cart. I had a moment of unease when Robert said he’d needed to go to the store to buy beer to ride out the storm. Had I felt anything was uncool, Robert would have quickly found himself walking home, no matter how much I’d wanted to help, but as I loaded his bags into my car, I noticed he had one (rather large) can of beer. The other items were cans of soup and cheap fillers like Ramon Noodles. He may have wanted the beer, but I had the feeling this man needed those groceries.
I unlocked the doors. Robert climbed in the front seat beside me. His clothes were dirty, and his beard was an unkempt whitish-gray. He explained that he was partially blind and stared straight ahead but talked nicely as I drove him home. His apartment was farther than I thought it would be, and I was surprised at how far he’d had to come and how far he’d have had to walk back.
I fought back tears thinking how difficult and scary it must be to be partially blind and make this long trek alone in the cold and the heat. I fought back tears thinking of how many people, even our neighbors, have hard lives and we don’t even know it.
Yet, Robert never complained. Instead, he kept saying how nice people here are. He said I was the 31st person to help him. I wasn’t sure if he meant that day or over time. I was so surprised by his counting nice people that I didn’t think to ask.
Robert is an old, overweight man. He has diabetes and can hardly see, and as I pulled up to his apartment complex, unfolded and reloaded his little red shopping cart with all those heavy groceries, I was struck by the contrast he made to the woman in the grocery store, her swagger, her string of foul language, and her vile attitude.
Robert had little but was so grateful, humble, and kind.
I thought of the others I’d met since better understanding our call to Love.
I thought of Big Anthony and the little Mexican woman who pushes her cart around town. I wondered where they were and how they’d ride out the coming storm. I took Robert’s phone number. I told him I don’t get his way often but I’d pick him up if I was there when he needed groceries again.
I wasn’t comfortable giving him more than my first name and I’d never pick anyone up with my boys in the car, but I would do what I could to help those I can.
Was I crazy for picking up a strange man in the grocery store? Probably.
Yet I think of how many women pick up guys in bars or on trains or at ball games and then laugh about it.
Robert thanked me a dozen times as we drove to his house. I know he thought I was doing him a favor. I saw his eyes spark happily when I wished him God’s Blessing before I drove off.
My eyes didn’t spark happily. My eyes filled with tears. My heart broke for Robert and Anthony and the little Mexican woman who is so afraid or angry or confused or whatever that that she won’t speak to me although she reaches for the food I’ve offered.
I wonder sometimes how I am so Blessed with this life? How I am able to have this house and these kids and this food and this job and all of this?
I think of how easily I can be one of them, those people we overlook or pass by because we are afraid they may hurt us or someone will think oddly of us or or whatever other reasons our imaginations make up.
Yet every time I’ve stopped to help a needy stranger,
I’ve found nothing more than a person.
I’ve also found nothing less.
I find a person grateful for help. I find a person surprised by another’s willingness to talk. I find a person with a name like Anthony or Robert or the little Mexican woman whose name I’ll learn in Heaven. I find a person with a story and a soul and a love and a longing for Love in his heart.
Each time I stop to help a stranger I know I can easily overlook, it is I who is blessed by them far more than they are by me. I find that I am driven to go further, to reach out more, and to remember that God put us here to love unconditionally.
They remind me that Love is an action, a service, and a choice.
Tonight, I was out shoveling snow and feeling bad for myself. I’m tired. I haven’t seen my kids in days, and they should have been back after school today but with school and road closings it didn’t happen. I shoveled 23″ of snow out to the street and started the heavy compacted stuff where the plow had piled it to my chest.
I wanted to cry but then thought of Robert and how grateful he was. I thought of how, to the saints and angels looking down, I must sometimes seem like the angry, self-righteous woman cussing up a storm in the jammed parking lot that can be my life.
I thought of Mother Teresa and Saint Don Bosco and so many others who put themselves at risk to offer kindness to another human being. I thought of how the souls they touched knew Love even if it was for just a few moments. I wanted to be more like them. I wanted to give others Love even if it was for just a few moments.
Yet each time I give Love, I find I leave
wanting needing to give more.
Maybe that’s because each time I try to give my imperfect little love, I get more Love in return.
How that happens, I don’t know, but I do know it happens.
Tonight, I shoveled to the street, but I counted my Blessings. Instead of being angry at the unfairness of life or saddened by missing my boys or dwelling on the work that was making me so tired and achy and sore, I realized again how easily I could be Big Anthony, Robert, the little Mexican woman, or any number of people you pass by without asking their name.
But by the Grace of God go I
Tonight, I’d take a lesson from Robert and count my Blessings, and I’d begin with the gift that came from meeting him.
I thought I’d picked up a Man in the grocery store,
but maybe he was there to pick me up instead.
*I am not endorsing picking up strangers in the grocery store or anywhere else! This can be an extremely dangerous thing to do. I know the risks and have decided I’d rather offer love than receive the illusion of safety. Even still, I do this type of thing on rare occasions when I believe there is a reason and a calling. We have one life to live. Our bodies are created in the image and likeness of God to house the Holy Spirit. Please Love unconditionally yourself as well as those around you. Please use caution.
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