I guess I was just born nosy, because I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t like grilling people with questions. Maybe it’s simple curiosity, but I seem to have a greater tendency and need to pry than most. This serves me well in my work as a physician, which is really all about stories and getting to the bottom of things.
Having the intention of giving away $100 really opened up this part of me; I became like a question machine. It was a natural part of the giving process but moreso a by-product of feeling more aware and connected. I am simply amazed at how willing people are to share personal information with a total stranger.
That’s what happened today. I was back at good old Fred Meyer, along with most everyone in the neighborhood. There was a C-note tucked in my pocket. I had stuff to pick up from all over the store, so I covered some ground. I saw the cashier woman from Day 31 and was happy to see that she seemed to be in a better mood. I said hello to a few people I knew as I worked my way through my list.
New can opener: check. Bag clips: check. Spotted a coupon for “buy two gadgets and get one free”. Third gadget: check.
I was inexplicably browsing through the oral health supplies when I spotted a young girl with a white cane. She appeared to be about 14 and was holding on to a slightly older kid’s arm. Every so often he would stop and she would feel her way along the shelves. “What is this?” I heard her ask. “It’s candy. And gum and stuff.”
Seems like I went around the store in circles a few times but I finally grabbed my last item, a bottle of canola oil. A few yards down was the blind girl. She was standing in front of the packaged pudding, the boy standing somewhat protectively at her side. A woman was behind them, giving her directions. “Look to the… I mean, feel to the left. No, I mean the right. That’s Jello.” “It’s already cooked?” asked the girl.
The woman had a shopping cart full of packaged food. She was in her 60s, had a soft round face and short spiky hair. She saw me looking at her and smiled. She took a few lurching steps and I noticed that one of her legs was about four inches shorter than the other. The kids came over and they all conferred quietly. A large man joined them and I realized he was part of the family too.
I stood there and pretended to compare the prices of brown sugar. Lots of people were coming and going. Finally the five of us were alone in the aisle and I wheeled my cart next to theirs. I said hello to the woman, who fixed me with a friendly and open gaze. “Is this your family?” I asked her. “Yes, we drove up from Medford.” She cocked her head toward the girl. “She’s going to the School for the Blind. So we’re getting stuff to get her cupboards set up. You know, stuff she doesn’t have to cook very much. It’ll be the first time she’s been on her own.” I looked at the small girl standing next to me. “How old are you?” I asked. “I’m eighteen,” she said, her eyelids fluttering.
We stood there chatting for a while as if we were old friends. I felt the cocoon of love, pride and concern that was surrounding this brave girl. I flashed back to the emotion of dropping my own son off at college not long ago.
“I’d like you to have this. For good luck.” I tucked the bill into the woman’s hand. She looked at it and then at me. “Are you sure? Are you sure??” I smiled and said I was. The woman reached out and pulled me into a big hug. She pressed her soft cheek against mine in a tender and surprisingly intimate gesture. Then she whispered into my ear, “Thank you. I’ll give it to my granddaughter.” She left a damp spot on my cheek when she finally pulled away.
“What is it, Grandma?” asked the girl. “It’s some money, sweetie.” The woman thanked me, her eyes glistening. I said goodbye and turned to go. I’ll never be sure what she meant but as I pushed off toward the checkout stand I heard the girl say, “Grandma? I told you I could see with my heart.”