Sometimes I’m inspired by sad encounters.  I had one the other day while in the grocery store. 

It was about 10:30 in the morning.  I was in line at the checkout.  Ahead of me was a tiny, somewhat disheveled man wearing a ratty grey coat and a tattered blue wool hat pulled low over his eyes.  We made eye contact, and he smiled.  There was a slight sign of youth in his face, but I noticed that his fingers were knotted as though he suffered from arthritis.  I also noticed that his bony hands were clasping a 40 ounce of beer.  Part of me wanted to laugh;  seeing that 40 reminded me of college (now that’s a different set of stories for another day!).  But a bigger part of me was sad.  It was the way he was holding it–like it was a greatly needed treasure.  A lifeline.

He didn’t put it down on the belt, so my various array of canned goods and taco shells began to encroach on his personal space.  He turned to me and apologized for inadvertently knocking a box over with his elbow.  No apology was necessary, but I was taken by just how polite he was.  He greeted the cashier as if he knew her– perhaps he was a regular–and she rung up his 40 and gave him the total: $1.83.  He put his money down on the belt. 

It was all change.

She patiently counted it out.  He had actually given her too much, so she returned a few pennies to him.  She gave him the receipt, and he smiled and told her to have a good day. 

My heart really went out to him as I watched him walked away.  There is so much story there–the coat, the hat, the young smile, the aging hands, the beloved 40 at 10:30 in the morning, the change, and the nice, polite manner.  I wish him the best of luck.  I hope he has a warm place to sleep as winter approaches.  I hope he stays safe.  And I hope he has people around who love and care for him.

I hope that one day I feel the need to write something where I can draw inspiration from this brief encounter in line at the grocery store.  There’s a great story there, and it needs to be told.


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