I Have a Friend...
I was standing in a very long, crowded line of folks waiting to cash out their purchases, in a busy store, in a relatively small town by most modern city definitions. There was the usual, expected array of faces and expressions. Most looked tired... stressed... taxed. People. People with lives, concerns, expectations, schedules and responsibilities. I silently told myself there was nothing unusual going on here. I only had a couple of things to pay for, but there were no 'short' lines, so I relaxed and waited quietly.
A well dressed, stunningly pretty lady stood just ahead of me with a small child of perhaps three or four years old in her arms. I had seen the woman hastily snatch the little girl from the shopping cart ahead of her... it was piled high with what were assumably Christmas gifts, leaving almost no room for the brightly snowsuit clad baby. The woman was impatient and scolded the little girl as she repeatedly reached for all those little hangy things on the aisle pegboards that wall in the funnels to each checkout register. The child, who was as beautiful as her mother, looked a bit confused as to why her mother was so irritated, but continued to paw at the shiny items that captured nearly her entire attention otherwise. Afterall, it's in her contract, right?
The woman continued to become more irritated by the slow, distant cashier's progress, the normal child antics of her daughter, a person in front of her that didn't close up the opening in the line ahead of her as quickly as she thought it should have been, etc.. She was obviously very susceptible to any additional perceived annoyances. She swore under her breath, shook her head with gloom while looking at the floor and repeated warnings to her little girl with a tone that became increasingly more strained.
Suddenly, the woman looked up at the ceiling and asked aloud, "God, why am I so unlucky that you burden me with such always impossible tasks?"
I shocked myself by reactively reaching out and gently squeezing the shoulder of that lady. She turned and shot me a laser look that would have sliced other bodies behind me in half, long after it obliterated me. I felt awkward and very pressured to justify my unsolicited gesture, yet the words just spilled from me calmly, in a low voice that only the two of us would really hear. I think I was as surprised as she was. What I said to her was something very close to this:
"Ma'am, I have a friend who repairs my vehicles. He does so with an ever present smile and an optimism that always makes me look hard in my mirror. He lives alone and is long divorced now. I think many people take advantage of his kindness and good will, I strongly suspect perhaps even some of his own flesh and blood. But he is stubbornly undaunted by anything and everything. He is also a double amputee at the hips. I don't pity him in the slightest... he would never want or allow that. Rather, I admire him highly."
"And Ma'am, I have a friend who was in an ultra light plane accident at the age of only 23. He has lived his last 29 years as a quadraplegic in a wheelchair. In September, he was operated on for colon cancer and is now recovering. He has a beautiful, intelligent wife who holds a PHD. He always has a smile and a ribald joke... or three. He never complains, he just lives, happily and without self pity, and pushes every boundary he can with unstoppable determination. He is an inspiration to me."
Her face had softened and she already had a tear trickling down her cheek. I tried to speak in an intentionally kind, gentle tone... yet my words kept coming.
"Ma'am, I too have a friend for whom Christmas is a real challenge of inner strength, tenacity, faith... and endurance. His wife was killed in a motorcycle accident two years ago this Christmas Eve. She was young and vibrant and always took life by the horns. And God suddenly took her without warning or explanation. He is one of my dearest, long time friends in this world, though I struggle to grasp his pain and anguish while wondering how I might handle it if the situation was my own. He will never have another 'normal' Christmas. He sets a high bar of courage for me."
"And Ma'am, I had a friend who dearly loved and cared for his wife. She chose to deceive him and had an affair with one of his faux 'friends'. She let him down and she let their beautiful daughter down. In early October, he let us all down by tragically committing suicide. As much as I loved him and now understand his misery, I cannot forgive him for that. He will never have another Christmas. His daughter will never have another Christmas with Daddy. He has left us all with a hurtful, lasting lesson."
The lady stood before me wide eyed with disbelief. I patted her shoulder again to try to reassure her and gently pushed her shopping cart foreward a few feet to close the gap ahead of her that had opened in the long line without her noticing. I realized that a pair of elderly ladies behind me had become silent and were also listening to what I was saying.
"Ma'am, I see a lovely, well dressed and groomed woman in front of me. I see a gorgeous little girl, healthy, well kept and as pretty as her mother. I see a shopping cart full of gifts for those you care about and love... and I'm sure they love you back just as much. I see a large, elaborate engagement and wedding ring pair on your finger, telling me there is a husband for whom you two surely mean the world. Can you not see what I see, Ma'am? Has God really treated you so unjustly?"
I didn't know if I was going to be slapped, reported to management for some perceived infraction or just what. Without a sound she turned and repositioned the items in her shopping cart. She then placed the little girl back in the child seat.
I thought at that point that we were done, and I might escape this encounter without being insulted, hit or arrested. Much to my amazement, she turned and gave me a full, tight embrace and thanked me.
"Sometimes, Sir, we each need help to truly see."
All I could stammer was "Merry Christmas, Ma'am". She returned the sentiment in a loud voice and it was then echoed again from behind me. I turned and saw wide, approving smiles on the faces of the old ladies.
It was the most genuinely moving Christmas moment I have experienced in many, many years. This happened about a week ago and I have wrestled with writing about it since. Finally, I just decided to do it anyway, even if it is viewed as too corny and mushy by some. I probably haven't done a very good job of conveying it here, but I have some great readers who might get the idea regardless. Sometimes, we just have to gamble, you know?
Merry Christmas everybody. Take inventory of your blessings and be thankful.