I was at Costco the other day when an old woman started talking to me out of nowhere. I brushed her off at first, avoiding eye contact and trying to look busy as I waited in the long line to grind my newly purchased, absurdly-sized bag of coffee. I’m typically a very social person, but I simply wasn’t up for an unsolicited conversation with a stranger at the time. My two year old son was getting fidgety in the oversized shopping cart, my daughter’s preschool pick-up was quickly approaching and honestly, Costco is enough of a pain without an old lady cornering me to talk my ear off. In spite of all this, something told me to stop and listen to her; so I did so reluctantly.
She told me about her husband who was in the restroom, motioning towards it. He’d developed Parkinson’s in the last year and she’d watched him slowly deteriorate. This was the first shopping excursion where he had to use a mobilized scooter to get around, but he was prideful about it and hated having to use it. She was halfway through her shopping list when he said it was time to go home, which had been happening every time they’d gone out lately. “But when it’s time to go, it’s time to go,” she said. I looked into her pale blue eyes and said, “He’s lucky to have you.” With tears welling up she said, “No. I’m lucky to have him. He’s my best friend. We’ve been together for 60 years.”
I’m such a sucker for real. I don’t know why she chose to share this with me, but I’m so glad she did. What an honor, not an inconvenience. Life, not an interruption to it. If she had been talking about anything, anything else I would have kept my closed body language going. I would have pretended I didn’t hear her or know it was me she was trying to engage. I would have willed her to just go away.
Instead I could have listened to her for hours, sharing her stuff, trusting a total stranger with it. I’ve been thinking about her ever since. If I had her phone number I’d call her and tell her, “Get ready, I’m picking you up in 10 minutes, Lady!” We’d go back to Costco and get through our lists together, finding all kinds of extras to throw in as well-a 456 pack of socks and more ice cream bars than anyone could ever eat. With full carts and satisfyingly checked off shopping lists; we’d head to the food court to enjoy pieces of pizza the size of our heads and a gallon of soda. I’d ask her more about her husband and tell her how sorry I am that life is so hard right now. I’d share some of my own stuff with her too, because that’s what you do when someone goes there with you. I’d thank her for adding a pinch of sacred to my ordinary that day in Costco.