Today, insights on living from two anonymous elderly women. The first, a woman I met months ago at Target. The second, a woman I met four days ago at Cub Foods. I wondered and ruminated over the first encounter for months, but it only made sense in the context of the second. Some learnings take months, even years to unfold. Had not my heart and eyes been open, this story, this lesson, would not be.
It was spring. I entered Target, baby heavy in the infant carrier wrapped around my elbow. It was no usual day. Yes, the week had been hard. There were things happening I didn’t understand. Things that made me cry, things that made me want to hide in a bubble, things that weren’t working. I had come to Target with a heavy heart, misunderstood, humbled, quieted. I wanted things right with the world again.
I walked to the string of carts just inside the door, like any other day. I noticed an elderly woman getting a cart in front of me, cane transferred from hand to cart. Baby and carrier in my left hand, I pulled at a cart to loosen it from the string of others. Got it. Started moving it forward and slightly to the right, but realized the front wheel of my cart had hit this elderly lady’s foot.
Shocked my sense of body space had failed, “I’m so sorry ma’am, I didn’t see your foot there,” I said.
“Didn’t you see ME there?” said this elderly woman in a tone shaming to my ears.
“I’m really so sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean to do it, I didn’t realize I was so close to you.” I pleaded, on the verge of tears.
“You don’t have to be so cross with me,” she said. “You look so cross.”
Knowing in my heart I had been misunderstood, I apologized again, trying with all sincerity to make her understand I was NOT cross, but was very sorry for this mishap. To this day, I’m confident she did not understand, did not believe what I had to say. She thought I was cross and that I was a rude young woman in a hurry. As she departed, I wanted so desperately to chase after this woman and explain my heart away until she understood it all. But I didn’t. I just milled and milled, then finally had to talk about it with someone because this had cut to my core.
I spent the last seven months trying to make sense and make good of this incident. Out and about, I took time to really see seniors, acknowledge them, engage them in conversation. Maybe I just needed my eyes opened to the elderly, I told myself.
And then there was Saturday when all the pieces came together.
An elderly lady appeared from behind as I paid. I wasn’t expecting to meet this saint of a woman in the checkout line at Cub Foods. Warm, inviting jewel tones, pink lipstick, silver white hair, an unforgettable smile, and kind eyes that had seen much. She noted the cashier’s light, asking “Are you supposed to be closed? I see you turned your light off since I got in line.” Young man explained he was going on break once we were through. Elderly lady exclaimed “Oh good, you really need a break to take care of yourself. Good for you.”
She turned towards my children who were obediently packing bags of food as I had asked, smiled at them, then at me. I saw her notice and was intrigued by this woman. I felt comfortable to share I was proud because they stayed up really late at a sleepover the night prior and could be behaving much worse considering it was almost bedtime. As she passed with her two or three items, she so sweetly commented to my children, “I would be much worse off if I stayed up that late! You two are doing very well helping your mom. You have a great night.”
Sweet. Kind. Compassionate. Full of grace. A woman that notices, a woman that takes time to look deeper into the hearts of others. Not to mention as beautiful and poised as a woman could ever be. That’s who this elderly woman was and I was honored to have met her even for just a couple minutes.
And this time? This time, I wanted to chase after the woman and tell her how wonderful she was and how she was full of such grace and beauty, and how I admired everything about her in just a couple minutes of experiencing who she was. But I didn’t. I sat with it
and thought how stupid it was to have left my camera at home and reveled in how magnificent this encounter had been, how it so strongly contrasted with my experience at Target months ago.
And so it is. We have a choice about how we will be in this world. We can fill others’ carts or empty them. We can choose to be a victim, leaving others feeling unsure, as if they failed or did something wrong. Or we can choose to be a warm, lovely ray of hope in this world, encouraging, noticing and loving others, and always full of grace.
May the elderly woman at Target experience acknowledgment and love from those in her circles, and may the elderly woman at Cub Foods continue to bring joy into others’ lives just as she did for me that day.
As for me, I need to surround myself with people that build me up, care for me, and love me for who I am. May I not live life as a stressed out victim, but with grace and peace and love and joy, so others may see the light in me.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16