I looked up from my grocery shopping cart in time to see her. She was not alone, but I paid no attention to the lady with her.
It was the elderly woman slowly pushing her cart through the grocery isles as was I, that caught my eye. Shuffling along looking at everything and nothing. That blank stare of her eyes let me know that she was not looking for anything in particular. She examined the cheese, she placed milk in her basket. At that point we were just two elderly women passing at the Dairy case.
Along with the blank stare of her eyes, I noticed the bruises on her face. My first thought was Elder abuse. I wanted to reach out to her. I wanted to take the bruises away. What I did was nothing but allow my mind to wander.
I had just come from having test done. Tests that many aging men and women have to have done. But I wasn’t ready for the tests or the probability of the results. My moments of memory laps are too frequent and my concern of seizures had taken me to my primary care physician. He in turn ordered a battery of test and I’m sure the emotions I was feeling when I saw her were under the surface all along. They just needed a reason to burst forth in a rush of tears that I tried desperately to hold back.
I moved passed them careful not to stop. When my basket safely passed her I heard her companion say, “Now you must be careful. You know you don’t have much money. You can’t have everything you see.”
That is all it took for an argument to start in my head. “Lord, what shall I do?” I prayed as I walked forgetting the grocery shopping I was supposed to be doing. Milk and bread or cereal took a back seat to the moment.
“Oh Lord, I can’t handle this. What can I do?” Somehow I saw myself. The need to do something for her overwhelmed me.
“I don’t have but five dollars on me” I argued with myself. “That wouldn’t do much. Well, I could go to the check out stand and arrange to pay her bill,” my emotional struggle continued.
I wiped my tears just to have another flood come rolling down my face. By the time I finished my prayer and the discussion with myself, I was on the opposite side of the store than my friend was. Friend? Yes. For I felt an attachment somehow to the lady with the bruised face. I had fallen on concrete once, and broke the right side of my face, including the eye socket bone, and it was difficult for me to go out in public for awhile. I felt the stares of people who wondered what had happened but was afraid to ask. My black eye and bruised face, let you know I may have been the loser in a fight!
Observing the gentleness with which her companion treated her, I accepted that instead of being the victim of Elder abuse, that she, like I, had fallen. I felt for the five dollar bill in my pocket and held it tight in my hand in a folded position. I didn’t know any other way to do it. I had made up my mind that what I had on me was all I needed to do.
They were busy examining fruit. She picked up a bag of oranges. Then a bag of apples. Her companion helped her make a selection.
“Pardon me mamm”, I said as I tapped her companion on the shoulder. “Would you take this and see that she has a treat - something special that she wouldn’t otherwise purchase. It isn’t much but I can’t stand the thought of her wanting something and not being able to get it”. The words came out tumbling out unrehearsed almost in one sentence.
With a question mark written on her face, the lady took the folded money momentarily, at least while I finished my discourse. My friend occupied herself with the abundance of fruit that lay in mounds on the tables, paying no attention to the conversation that was going on a few steps away.
“Oh honey, you don’t understand.” the companion spoke gently. “This is so sweet of you but please take it back. You see, her family has to limit her spending, for she would buy everything in the store.” She went on to tell me that my friend loved shopping, and I had to agree that I did too.
On hearing her story, I took back the folded money and placed it in my pocket. My tears were dried, but the lump in my throat was still there. It still is. The picture of the bruised face, framed by the gray unkempt hair, and the shuffling of the feet of a stranger that affected me so, is in front of me as I write. The stranger I call a friend..