Supermarket friendships


A delightful experience in the supermarket.  I was in line to check out when an old Chinese man in the next line came towards me looking at my cart, then at me, then at my cart.  (I knew he was Chinese by his long white stringy chin-beard, like out of some ancient poem).  I asked him “Can I help you?”  In pretty good English he said, “I look ideas about healthy food.  What you have?”  This was just a quick stop for me that day.  I pointed to my stack of cheap t.v. dinners – “These t.v. dinners are just $1 each,” I explained.  I buy them for the tasty sauce and then add more meat and vegetables, because I’m no good at making sauces.”  Then I showed him my two bananas, my Brownberry bread – “This is healthy,” I said,  and my organic lettuce.  And then it was time for both of us to proceed to our checkouts.  Finished with our transactions, he came to me again.  “You write for me name of these things?”  I took a paper and pen and wrote “Michelina’s t.v. dinners, Brownberry bread,” etc.  He pointed to the word “t.v.”  “What is this t.v.?” he asked.  “Television,” I explained.  “You microwave these and have a quick dinner ready.”  “Oh!”  he said delighted.  “Eat while watch television!”  “Yes,” I affirmed with a smile.  “You my teacher!” he exclaimed twice, and with a head bow and warm smiles we separated.  It was all so unusual and delightful, I wondered if I ought to get his phone number or something!  I felt such warmth for this lovely person, and wondered “why”, as we often wonder when the unusual happens.
    My first reaction later was to feel how glad I am to be 70 years old. Had I been younger I might have felt embarrassed by his approach or afraid those behind me in line would be impatient or judgmental.  But we were two old strangers interacting with the freedom of elders, feeling secure with each other in some indescribable way.  We were beyond caring what we look like to those around and could just be open and human with each other.
    I later remembered a news story that in Japan there’s been a rash of petty thefts by senior citizens.  They’ll steal a loaf of bread, get caught and taken to jail for a night, and then released.  Then they do the same thing again.  It seems they’re lonely!  In jail, they have people to talk with.  Perhaps my old Chinese friend was just looking for an excuse to chat with someone.  If so, he made my day.
   And now, I pay attention in grocery stores for folks who look like they just need a human chat.  That isn’t hard to do…

4 Replies to “Supermarket friendships”

  1. Lovely story and a good reminder to slow down and notice the people around us.

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  2. Keeping eyes open for an opportunity for "a human chat" — What a fine approach to life!
    Of course many will find that prospect fearful; one might be "taken advantage of" by strangers. Isn't the world seemingly full of panhandlers and con artists? Then again, if we trust in God, we might get to the place where as Jesus advised, if one asks for your coat, also give him your shirt … or however that goes. "Radical Discipleship"!
    I found myself gladly taking a risk a few weeks ago when, nearing the end of a nice bike ride in the country, I came back to our neighborhood via a big shopping mall. I was heading for the Taco Bell (One Dollar Specials!) when I saw a guy at the traffice light with the usual hand-scrawled sign on the back of a piece of cardboard: "Hungry! Anything helps."
    I could have shelled out a dollar and then headed inside and eaten by myself. But something led me to say, "Want to join me for a simple lunch?"
    He was glad to take 45 minutes or so out of his work (which indeed it was… standing by the curb, ready to receive what he told me that day had netted him about 11 dollars.)
    I learned a lot from his life-story, about a disastrous childhood, a house that burned down and only was rebuilt enough to live in after 6 years, about moving to town after only knowing life on a farm, about which cops give him a hard time and which other homeless folks had tried to get him off of what they consider "their" corner, about looking out for the nice-looking homeless teenager who was working the other corner, about being expelled from a soup kitchen for getting into a fight with a guy who was threatening and exploiting a weaker person, about…. Life from the Under Side.
    Fortunately, I didn't feel manipulated, nor do I think I came across as condescending… just a couple of older guys sharing a simple lunch at the Taco Bell. It was better for me, at least, than just handing him some cash and hurrying on.
    Marti, you've set a good example in terms of seeking to connect with "the other" and then finding your Common Humanity!

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  3. What a wonderful story! A wonderful example, you treated him as an equal and a human being- respecting him. That can feed his soul greatly!

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