Blessing from random conviviality with an elderly stranger

I just got back from grocery shopping this afternoon, feeling blessed. Not because of the ample groceries heaped high in my cart. Not because of the few summer blouses I impulsively bought. Not because of the fat hamburger and fries snack I treated myself to. No, none of the shopper’s natural highs. I feel blessed because I spoke to a stranger – an elderly woman who asked if she could sit on the bench in front of me while she waited for her friend.

Her friend, she explained, was making the store rounds. In my mind, the friend was taking her sweet time inspecting items she most likely didn’t need but would buy, and this lady stranger had not the strength nor the interest to shop on the whim. Her wait turned to forty minutes of exchanging pleasantries with me. I even shared my big order of French fries which she hesitantly accepted and consumed.

Lady X plummed out bits and pieces of her background. Very interesting because she came from a province in Luzon, Philippines, and spoke the same native language as did my husband, Ilokano. Switching from English to Tagalog, we both dived into animated conversation. I learned that she is in her early eighties and is the oldest of ten children. She never married because she was focused on taking care of her younger siblings. A very noble sacrifice, a life-long dedication of love and service. That touched me.

The friend whom she left in the maze of shopping so she could sit and rest never came. I tried to slow down the nibbling of my plump burger just to keep Lady X company and stretch the conversation that she obviously enjoyed. But as I stood from my table to proceed to the cashier line to pay for my goods, she stood, too, profusely thanked me for the chat and the fries, and trudged out of the store.

I sadly watched her walk away, wondering if there was indeed a friend that she claimed she was waiting for. Who knows, the trek to the store might have been the highlight of her day, an adventure she treated herself to, maybe daily, maybe weekly. A chance to be with people and strike a conversation with a nice someone, if there was such a one in this maddening crowd of rushing shoppers. Today, I was that someone, and I feel blessed because she found me. I didn’t find her. I was just there and available.

A sobering thought crossed my mind. When I advance in my baby boomer years, and with my husband gone, will I walk the stores seeking someone to notice me and speak with me? And when I sit with a person who happens to be eating, will I accept food offered in good faith to me? Will I share my stories with a stranger who will listen not just out of courtesy but with genuine interest? Will I find joy in random conviviality? I hope so. My prayer is that Lady X felt blessed, as I feel blessed by her, too.

Linda P. Jacob

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