Three days until Christmas. Thankfully, my tasks were almost complete. Standing in line, I made the annual vow to avoid the craziness next year, however deep inside I knew that no matter how organized I was, there would always be a last minute dash. It was just part of the season.
My throat was parched and when I spotted expensive gourmet water near the cashier, my thirst consumed me and I grabbed a bottle. WOW, $3.50! Right then, I’d have paid any price. I opened the top and downed a swig. “Aaaaaahhhh,” I sighed, "my lifeguard!"
There was no leaving this cashier’s line now. After all, consuming unpaid goods borders on shoplifting. If need be, I could explain… medical conditions, a doctor’s prescription… I had all of my excuses rehearsed. I needed that water.
My wait time grew as the man in front of me asked plentiful questions about fitting his gift into a fancy box and return policies should the item not please his wife. He was downright rude to the clerk, an older woman with a southern accent.
My eyes scanned my opened water bottle as I downed another refreshing mouthful; $3.50 and from Sri Lanka. Mmmm, I had Mount Fuji water the other day. My mind wandered.
I wondered if this sweet, wet nectar that quenched my gripping thirst could have welled up during the Tsunami. Could my life-guarding, energy-renewing gulp have blocked the wind pipe of a child’s last breath as she searched for her family? How amazing that my life-giving water could also have ended so many lives.
Could gulf coast water have passed my lips the past few months? Could Katrina’s angry sputum that immersed New Orleans also provide life-giving food and water? The very water that cools the Earth provided an impenetrable barrier as survivors sought relief from parching heat: people could not get to the cool. No lifeguards stood watch when Katrina unleashed her Poseidon-like power.
“How could something so bad be so good?” I asked out loud as I sipped more of my refreshing bottle. Could water poured on the precious head of a pure young baby in baptism possibly be the same water that drowned another precious babe left in the toilet a young mom panicked and fled with watery tears flowing down her cheeks?
Could the water used to wash enemy feet in a ceremony of forgiveness also extinguish the flames of arson or clean the filth of mud-slinging?
Water everywhere forms one connected system of life-giving oceans, lakes and streams. My next sip brought feelings of connection to my brothers and sisters across the Earth.
Finally, after a wait long enough to bring new water-filled blisters to my feet, it was my turn to pay. The clerk’s exasperated look worsened as she picked up my empty water bottle from the countertop. “What’s this?” she asked sharply.
" I couldn’t wait. I drank mine. But here’s one for you,” I said as I handed her a $3.50 bottle. “Have a drink on me… I know you must be thirsty,” I said.
She looked confused for a moment. Then our eyes met.
“Thank you for working during this hectic season,” I said. I hope you’ll have time to enjoy Christmas with your family.
“My family’s all gone now,” she said. My son and his family didn’t make it through the New Orleans hurricane,” she added. “I’m happy for friends here in Milwaukee and I’m blessed to have this job.”
As we looked deep into one another’s eyes, the tears in her dark brown eyes and the tears welling in my green eyes were of one ocean.
“Merry Christmas,” I blurted.
“Thanks for the water,” she said. “You are my lifeguard.” She took a swig. “Goes right to my heart and soul,” she added. “aaaahhhhh”
She held up the bottle as a toast as I walked out. I looked back just in time to see her smile at the next customer.
I think I saw a halo over her head.
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