Last week I took my car to Little Rock for its 12,000 mile oil change. The dealership sits on the east side of six lanes full of hurtling traffic. A supermarket sits on the west side. Although rain was falling intermittently, I was determined to walk to the supermarket to eat lunch while I waited because I like their fried chicken and tender green beans.
I zipped up my raggedy bum-around jacket, took a deep breath, and then barreled into the traffic. I dodged three cars to get through the first three lanes to the median, but I made it.
I scrabbled over the stickery bushes on the median. No mean feat, that.
The second three lanes were easy after the first three and the median, and I reached the parking lot safely.
The rain started pouring, so I ran the last twenty yards to the supermarket’s doorway. By the time I got inside, I was a mess: wet, cold, bedraggled. My bum-around coat was neither waterproof nor warm enough. My white hair was plastered down on my head. I suppose I looked like I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from.
A woman I had not seen before waited on me. She had the leathery skin of someone who had worked outdoors all her life, or perhaps had smoked for years, or drank too much. She didn’t have any teeth. She’s had a hard life, I thought. She looks like she doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from. I wish I could help her.
“Lunch special, please,” I said. “Fried chicken. Dark.”
She dug through the chicken for a thigh and a leg. “Sides?” she asked.
“Corn. And green beans.” She ladled me up a scoop of buttery corn.
“What other side did you say you wanted?”
“Green beans,” I said. “They look real good.”
She raised her head and studied me for a long moment. Then she served me a giant helping of green beans. She paused, then dipped her spoon in the beans again and added a second big helping. She looked up, and at the moment our eyes met, I read her thoughts. She’s had a hard life, she thought. She looks like she doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from. I can do this to help her.
So that day, two old women touched each other’s hearts. She and I saw in each other a needy stranger. I knew I could do nothing for her, but she knew she could do something for me. She ladled me a mountain of tender green beans. And the gift of kindness to a stranger.