As a young girl, I would hang around in my grandfather’s workshop daydreaming the hours away. Above his bench there was a small black cast iron plate that read “I once complained that I had no shoes… until I met a man with no feet”. Even as a young girl that resonated with me. My grandfather and his bench have been gone for 30 years, but that simple quote still plays in my head.
The other day I stood patiently in line for the cashier at the corner Dollar Stop. An old woman in front of me (moving impossibly slow) had far too many packages and bags for her cane to allow, and not near enough nimbleness of fingers to find her wallet and count out her total in coins, which I knew to be inevitability. With her back to me, I passed the time imagining her haggard features and the events of her life that led her to this moment in time where she now stood before me and my ultimate freedom from the store.
In one quick second the old woman lost her wallet to the floor and the coins bounced and rolled in all directions. Instinctively I dropped to the floor to begin the task of retrieval. I quickly gathered her entire payment into the palm of my hand and gently extended my hand to the woman …whose back was still facing me. She turned slowly and deliberately, (only later did I consider it a mustering of courage) and the old woman looked me in the face with the gentle eyes of a long lived life.
There was a white surgical bandage running the length of her face, starting at forehead space between her eyes and stopping just short of her thin and chapped lips. More startling than the presence of this white bandage was the absence of the bump from her nose. The bandage was neatly placed, without wrinkle, and placed as smoothly against her skin as it would have been upon a tabletop. I could hear the insensitive gasps of shoppers behind me and I squared my shoulders to block them from her view. I kept my eyes locked on hers and with a genuine smile I took her small hand and placed her coins into them. Her hesitancy broke my heart and in the same moment I suggested that if she was interested in throwing her money away that she might give me a moment to prepare a bag for catching it. With this small joke the cashier giggled and the old woman smiled and spoke to me for the first time; an offer of thanks and an explanation of age for her clumsy nature. With that, the old woman was gone and I was left with my silent curiosities and a total abandonment of my earlier impatience.
On the ride home the old woman dominated my thoughts. Again I considered the events of her life that had led her to this moment. The courage and strength she must wear out of the safety of her home like a coat and the sheer pleasure of a simple outing to the Dollar Stop. This was a teachable moment for me.
What I take for granted can sometimes be as obvious as the nose on my face.