20 Minutes With a Stranger in Walmart

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I went into Wal-Mart on December 22 (yes, I know, what the heck was I thinking) to get last minute items for Christmas. I admittedly was a little more than reluctant to be there and angry with myself for procrastinating. Unfortunately it is important that I start this story with my unusually poor attitude.

I was in the soap aisle when I realized that I was in the way of a man on one of the electric wheelchairs. He just sat there until I excused myself and got out of his way. He never said a word. Then behind me I could hear him attempting to ask an employee for some assistance. At least I thought that what was what he was trying to do because he was not understandable. He was only able to grunt and a gesture. Although patient, it was clear that the employee did not understand what he was looking for. I turned around and decided to try to help, fully expecting to regret my decision. I was not able to understand him either and could see that he was getting frustrated. I asked him if he could write what he wanted and he indicated with gestures that he could. So now that I have myself “involved” I gave him my grocery list and pen to write with. His printing was shaky but we were able to understand that he wanted some kind of hair product. The employee started to walk to the next aisle to show him where the product was and I started to go in my own direction….but no, he grabbed my arm and wanted me to go with him too. Oh gosh, really? I followed the employee and the man on the electric cart two isles over. As soon as the employee pointed in the direction of what he thought the guy was looking for he disappeared into thin air. Again the man was frustrated. This time because the product was for women and he gestured it away as if to “just forget it”.

Whew, I figured now I could go on my way just as he grabbed my arm and gestured for me to follow him again. He led me to the blood pressure machine as he grunted something at me again. He was an older gentleman so I assumed he wanted to check his blood pressure and needed help. Nope! He wanted my grocery list so he could write again! He was trying to tell me that he needed blood pressure medicine and wanted me to go with him to help him communicate at the pharmacy. So again, I, this woman with absolutely no shopping done yet followed him to the line at the pharmacy.
I hope you have read this far….

While we were standing in line I asked him what his name was and handed him the grocery list. I have to admit that I got chills as he VERY clearly wrote his name. Barry Johnson. I told him my name and could see his disbelief. I showed him my license to prove to him I was MARY Johnson!

Then I asked him if he had suffered a stroke. He held up two fingers to indicate two strokes. He then showed me the scar on his neck from where he had a tracheostomy. When I showed him the identical scar on my neck, he got tears in his eyes and held my arm tighter. I told him of my heart attack and the tears continued in both of our eyes. He showed me another scar on his neck where he must have had a surgery for a blockage.

When it was our turn at the pharmacy counter he began to stand up from the cart. I asked him if he was steady on his feet and he shook his hand back and forth but continued to hold my arm. As he stood I realized that Barry was quite a tall gentleman. He held his cane and handed me his wallet. He wanted me to pay the pharmacist. I was a bit uncomfortable with this but Barry didn’t seem the least concerned that he had just handed his wallet to a stranger. His prescription was $4.00. I handed the clerk a $5.00 bill. When the clerk handed me the change, Barry gestured for my grocery list again. He wrote “change for bus”. He wanted quarters to take the bus home. I have to admit I was relieved to know that he had not driven there himself. We slowly walked back to the electric cart, he gave me a hug and we went our separate ways.

I walked away with the best gift I could have been given that day. My hurried day had come to a screeching halt when I spent 20 minutes with a stranger in Wal-Mart. I believe that Barry and I were supposed to meet on that day. I can’t tell you why I believe that. We never even actually spoke a word to each other. What in the world could we have in common? It was certainly not age, race, or gender. Perhaps it was a kinship from previous adversity?

Sometimes I think we need something to tell us to slow down, take what life gives us and deal with it as gracefully as possible on any given day. We must also not dismiss any person that seems so different than us. We may never know just what we have in common or what struggle that person is experiencing on that day. Many times kindness, empathy and compassion are not put first in our lives.

I do know that the whole experience left me wondering about the Bible verse from Hebrews. ” Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for by doing this some have entertained angels unawares”.

Are there angels on earth? Maybe… and maybe they are named Barry.

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