(This article was written
for our men and women
returning from the middle east.)
Jello Weather Warning!
The last five years of my life, since crossing the half century mark, have been the hardest. The mundane activities of errands, shopping, getting gas, had all become stressful blurs of getting to the best prices, with the most efficient use of gas and the most ease on my clankety, un-airconditioned car. But on a mid-August evening, one moment in time, one chance encounter, taught me something that I think about almost every single time I make a purchase, go to a gas station, or enter a store. On a late August night, a visit to a pharmacy was required. This pharmacy was one of those giant white block buildings on the corner of almost every town across the US; it’s war-like rival, directly across the street in a similar building. But on this one weary evening, the late Florida summer simmer had finally fired me to my boiling point, and I plodded, as if through melty Jello, from the parking lot into the store.
It was late, the store was quiet, and there didn’t appear to be a soul around. I squinted down the florescent-lit aisle and saw a tall, large man in the photo section. I stood near the cash register at the entrance, about 100 feet from the photo section, as the item I needed was right behind the counter. He didn’t turn to look at me. My temperature was rising and my mature woman indignation was riled. Surely he saw me! As I felt he was much younger, I judged his customer service skills as poor at best, and at worst, discourteous and rude and I piled a few other negative thoughts on top of those. With an impatient snap, my voice shot out. “Excuse me.” Again, there was no response. My mercury was now at the tipping point. I turned and started down the aisle toward the photo section. If my comfy shoes could have made staccato cracks as I walked, I would have been pleased! My angry tiredness must have been palpable even to the stuffed animals I passed along the way.
As I got to the photo counter, I could see that he was indeed young, maybe the age of one of my sons. He still didn’t acknowledge me. He had yet to turn in my direction since I walked into the pharmacy. I stood still for a moment and then spoke up. “Excuse me, sir!” My tone was more than emphatic, it was commanding, and he turned toward me. Something about the way he turned, slowly, almost with a steadied concentration, struck me and I was taken aback as I looked into his very young and kind eyes. “I’m sorry, m’am. I’ve lost the hearing on the right side, here, and I didn’t hear ya.”, and he pointed to the right side of his head. My maternal instinct kicked in as I looked at this young man, no older than 22 or 23. “Oh, no, no, please don’t apologize. I was just trying to get your attention. No worries…” and the rest of the transaction slipped back into everyday “please” and “thank-you’s”. The grinding tiredness I had, ebbed away and was replaced by humility and humanity. As we were wrapping up, I handed him my credit card, I asked him if he was from around here. He seemed rather shy and since I worked with some social services agencies in town, it was possible he might have a need that could be helped. Standing over 6’3”, this gentle young man explained that he wasn’t from around here, that he had joined the army after high school and was sent to Afghanistan. An IED had hit the vehicle he was in and he suffered brain trauma and lost the hearing in his right ear. He softly explained, that he had other injuries as well, and that when he recovered, he moved in with his family in Florida. I thanked him for his sacrifice, and said that I knew his family must be so proud of him. We chatted about nice ways to meet good people in town and I completed my transaction and left the store. I walked out, standing straighter, lighter than I had just 15 minutes earlier.
In the car, I sank into the driver’s seat, still tired, but lighter in spirit. The lightness of heart I felt, was not because of this special young man’s sacrifice for us, for me, for our country, (and I take nothing away from his nobility), but for his earnestness of heart. The simple way he carried on despite terrible setbacks at such a young age. Something else lifted me as well. I was lighter because when this man spoke to me, it was simple, truthful, without guile and humble. And it was my own understanding that my heart, though tired, was not hardened. I had judged this young man wrongly; first by judging the length of his hair, and the way he stood, (I hadn’t mentioned that part, had I?), and judged his seeming indifference. But the spirit of God, in a small moment, allowed for all of this to be changed in an instant. That physical, spiritual, financial tiredness that I had, was now changed, and with this change came lasting improvements for the way I look, listen and respond to people along the path of the mundane and tedious chores in life. When in the mundane of my days, life feels less like I am walking through “melty Jello” now. I have a real interactions, with real human beings now, and that is one of the greatest gifts of this time of my life.