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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Simple Gifts

I have noticed something lately that makes me a bit sad. We were in the 20 items or less checkout lane, with our less than twenty items. I turned to say something to Trent and saw that the person behind us was holding a few items in her hands and had her toddler balanced on her hip. I motioned to her and said, "You only have a few things, go ahead of me." It took a minute, but we finally convinced her to go ahead of us in line. Doing this small favor should have made me feel good, and it did. She was grateful to shorten her wait, and to lay down her small burdens. But what made me sad is how stunned and surprised she was to have a stranger show her this small courtesy. 

What has become of us? Are we in such a hurry that we don't have time to be decent to one another? Has our need for immediate satisfaction made us focus too much on ourselves? Is our time so important that we can't wait a few minutes in line without an "I got here first!" mentality? I have to wonder. Perhaps I tend to tune in on these things more than some other people do because I have known what it is like to be unhappy. I understand all too well what it feels like to be standing in line and in pain, or worrying about things that are going on in my life.

A couple of months ago, my husband had appointments in two different clinics at the University of Colorado Hospital. Naturally, one was in the morning and the second was mid-afternoon. We decided to just enjoy the gift of some quiet, unscheduled time. We headed down to the cafeteria, got some lunch, and then sat and people-watched. Sometimes people in a hospital are at their best. Maybe they just had their first grandchild, or found out that their health scare was a false alarm. Sometimes, they are at their worst. A friend is dying. Someone needs extensive care and doesn't know how they will afford it. 

As we sat quietly watching the comings and goings, a woman had her lunch catty-corner from us at the large line of tables where we were seated. Soon after she left, another woman sat in the same chair and started her lunch. I knew immediately that she had the weight of the world on her shoulders. Just as I began to get up from my chair to talk to her, Trent said, "Are you going to go to her or not?" I nodded and went over to her. I walked over, gently laid my hand on her shoulder, and asked, "Are you all right? You look like you need someone to talk to." She began to cry as she told me of her father's illness, her unemployment, and her worries of how her father's bills would get paid. She told me that all of her siblings relied on her to be the strong one and so she had nobody to go to. She was so grateful for a stranger's kind touch and willingness to listen. No, I wasn't able to solve any of her problems. But being able to share her burdens made them just a tiny bit lighter. As she got up to leave and visit her father again, she gave me a beautiful gift. While she hugged me tight, she whispered, "I always heard you should be nice to people because you never know when you are going to run into an angel."

It only cost me a few minutes of time and some genuine care to become someone's angel. What a humbling experience. I wish that everyone could feel what I felt at that moment. It wasn't pride. I just felt really human, and really astonished that such a one as I could make a difference in a person's life that day. I felt truly blessed. I want everyone to be able to feel the same thing. And when someone surprises you with a simple gift like letting you go in front of them in line, be grateful and accept their offer. Both the the person doing the kindness and the recipient will be better for it.