This afternoon I walked into the Wawa at the corner of 20th and Market to grab a sandwich and a pint of coffee milk before heading home and burying myself in school work. As I made my way back to the dairy case, I noticed a elderly woman slowly walking with a 20 ounce cup of coffee. Her hair was a teased apricot-colored cloud around her head. Hearing aids were tucked into both her ears and her back was bent under the weight of gravity and osteoporosis. She walked in a circle around the island that holds the half and half, sugar packets and tea bags. A confused expression flashed across her face as she started her second loop.
I went over to her and asked if I could help. At 5’2″ I towered over her and she craned her neck to look up at me and asked, “Do you see the lids? I can’t find them.” I reached around her and grabbed two lids, one of each style. She took the one that would seal the cup completely and thanked me for my help. I watched as she applied it to the cup, and before I could stop myself I leaned into help her push it firmly into place. I was a little afraid she’d be offended, but instead she smiled and said, “Thanks dear, you’re a doll.”
I grabbed my milk and headed to the cash register to pay. The elderly woman shuffled into line in front of me. A surly young woman was working the counter and she took her time to notice that anyone was standing in front of her. The clerk rang up the older woman’s coffee, exuding impatience with the elderly woman’s slow and concentrated movements. However, as I watched, the clerk seemed to undergo a transformation. It was as if something inside her recognized something about the elderly woman standing in front of her and she softened. She slowed down, carefully packed the coffee cup into a paper bag and then placed it into a plastic bag. She tied that neatly into rabbit ears and held up the loops so that this tiny old woman could slip it over her wrist.
The clerk took an enormous amount of time to really take care of this one customer who needed a little help and gentleness. It was a moment of grace and I wondered if this little woman in her 80’s was really an angel in disguise, come to help us all learn how to treat strangers with love. I paid for my items and walked out of the store. The old woman with the coffee cup was standing at the corner, waiting for the light. It turned as I approached and I watched her make painfully slow process across the street. She came to rest under the bus shelter at the corner.
As I walked away, I found myself sending wishes of protection after the woman and her cup of coffee. This interaction has increased my awareness of the ways in which I interact with strangers and has left me with the conscious intention to be as loving and kind as I can.