Early one summer Saturday, before it got too warm or crowded, I went to a grocery store in Center Moriches. I was comfortable there. I knew every aisle well and could complete my shopping quickly. I was cranky and irritable and feeling sorry for myself. Why did I have to do this every week?
For some reason, the store was very busy. I was sixth in line at the cash register. I stood making a mental list of tasks for the rest of the day.
My concentration was broken by the sound of a young mother scolding her son. The boy looked to be about five years old. He was playing a finger game with his little sister who was tucked securely in the seat of the shopping cart.
“Leave her alone,” admonished the mother. “She’s fine on her own.”
The boy then began lifting items out of the cart and placing them on the counter. Once again his mother reproached him. “Go out of the line and sit on the ledge by the window facing us.
Reluctantly, the boy obeyed, sat himself on the ledge, and looked down at the floor. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. After all, I thought to myself, he was only trying to help.
I turned back to my own space. I was now fourth in line. The carts in front of me were filled to the brim. Annoyed, I thought to myself, I should have come a little earlier.
Suddenly, I became aware of another situation happening to my left at another register. I turned my head and focused on a young lady who was apparently shopping with her elderly father.
“What are you doing Dad? I don’t want the meat on the counter yet. I’m doing all the vegetables and fruit first. Why don’t you just go over there and sit by the window. I’ll be finished shortly.”
I watched the man walk slowly toward the window, head bent, and looking so rejected. I studied him for a moment. He was well-groomed and well-dressed. I wondered. What was his life like before he reached retirement? Was he a businessman in a position that required making major decisions? Was he a responsible father seeing to every need of his family? Again, my heart felt a little sad.
The line moved and now I was second in place. Let’s see, I thought, what was my next errand? But I was no longer interested in the rest of my day. My total focus was on the young boy and the elderly man. I glanced over at the store window that had now become a stage for the private drama I was witnessing.
The two outcasts sat quietly on the ledge, just a few feet from each other. The gentleman coughed and the boy turned in his direction. Their eyes met and they gave each other a smile.
“My name is John,” said the father. “What’s your name?”
The father moved closer and they began to talk. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it was obvious they had found something to share.
Billy pulled out an action figure from his pocket and showed it to John, who was very interested. Before long they were laughing and chatting away like old friends and, magically, the difference in age no longer existed.
I lost track of where I was. I found myself smiling and feeling very light-hearted. Suddenly, Billy’s mom called him and he jumped down from the ledge and ran toward the door.
John watched him go, and I could see a look of sadness come over his face. Then a beautiful thing happened! Billy turned around, ran back to where John was sitting, reached up, wrapped his tiny arms around John’s waist, and said, “See ya!”
“Have a good day, Billy,” John responded. The smile on his face and the gleam in his eyes made my heart overflow with a joy I had not expected.
Oops! The line had moved and I was number one. As I placed my groceries on the counter, I wondered if anyone else had witnessed what I had seen. I left the store feeling good inside and somewhat guilty at having felt so cranky before.
The good feeling lasted all day. I didn’t tell anyone about John and Billy. It was just too private. But tucked in my heart was the memory of a very special moment I had witnessed at the local supermarket.