I was just going to run in, get some milk and yogurt, and run out.
You know that never happens.
As soon as I grabbed a cart (that was my first clue…), I saw top soil. Top soil in the grocery store. I might need that. For the plants that I’m going to plant. After I buy them.
Three giant bags for $5. Pretty good deal. I look at how much soil is in each bag. Forty pounds. Clearly, I’m going to get three bags.
And so I reached down to pick up the first bag and from behind me I hear: “That’s heavy, darling!”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Really heavy, be careful.”
“Thanks,” I repeat, biting my tongue from what I really want to say to this man.
I knew what he was trying to convey. I’m a woman and I probably won’t be able to pick it up. Ironically, this gives me more motivation to dead lift the soil and throw it into my cart. Bam and bam and bam.
I look at him and smile. Not a friendly smile, but a smile that conveys “how do’ya like that, buddy?”
“That’s your husband’s job,” he says to me.
“If only I had a husband,” I smile back.
Now I’m really annoyed at this man. How dare he make not one, but TWO stereotypes about me?
I want to storm off in anger, but first, I look at the man. He is wearing one of those John Deere-looking baseball hats that have a shape of their own. It stands upon his head. But instead of a green and yellow logo on the hat, it’s got a Jewish star of David on it, blue and white. And then I look down and I see he’s collecting money for something in a coffee tin. I was still so angry that I didn’t even bother to learn more.
Storming through the aisles, I cannot believe the chutzpah of this man! How dare he make these assumptions about me. I am a strong woman! Why would a man have to pick up my top soil for me? Am I a child? Could I not read the sign that said “40-pounds?”
Rice Krispies and Cheerios on sale. Perfect. I’ll take one of each. Oh wait. Need to buy three so I get the sale price. Three it is. I throw in a jar of applesauce, four containers of soup, some milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, frozen cauliflower and some low calorie frozen dinner. I don’t know why I bother with the lo-cal stuff.
I am still so annoyed. I zoom through the aisles, zig-zagging between other shoppers, peering ahead to see which line is the shortest. I want to get out of this place. I find the shortest line. But it doesn’t take me long to figure out that it will not be the quickest line. The bagger is having a conversation with the cashier. Like they are holding court or something. God, I wish I had more patience. But I don’t. I’m mad at myself for not just getting the milk and yogurt via the express lane.
And then it sinks in.
That man was wearing a Jewish star hat and was holding a collection bin.
I say to myself: “you missed out on a great opportunity.” I am ashamed with my actions.
He is one of your people. And he was collecting money for your people. I begin to think about all of the possibilities for what his collection was about.
OMG. What if he’s collecting for the Hebrew Free Burial Society? What if he’s trying to collect money to bury Jews who cannot afford a burial? I realize, even though I cannot see him at this point, that he was at least 85. Maybe he is a WWII Vet and he’s collecting for the veterans? He put his life on the line and I’m angry at this (probably) cute 85-year-old man because he was (probably) trying to be chivalrous?
I look into my wallet because, at this point, I am determined to give money to this man, this man who I snubbed. I don’t see any cash. Maybe I have a few dollars in the car. But that means I have to first pass this guy again, unload my cart, and then come back in. What if he’s not here when I come back? Would I have missed my chance?
The lady in front of me doesn’t know how to use the keypad to check-out. I’m growing more and more impatient. This time, not impatient out of my own selfishness, but impatient because I want to give. I want to do good. I sigh to myself, hoping and praying that the man is still by the grocery store entrance when I leave. As I take out my Shop Rite card, I see some cash stuck between two other cards. I take out the cash. Three dollars! Amazing! He deserves every penny – this man I hated only a few minutes prior.
I make up some time by bagging myself. I don’t know why more people don’t do that. I begin to push my cart out of the store.
And there he was. The cutest little 85-year-old man on earth collecting for a Jewish veterans group. He smiles at me. I wonder if (hope) he doesn’t remember me because of my behavior. But I promise to make it up to him. This time he has a friend with him. Same hat, different can.
Nothing changed for this man.
But everything changed for me.
A run through the grocery store and I realized that I have the capacity to change even negative interactions into positive ones. I was so glad he was there and this time, I also got to meet his friend. “Here you go,” I say, giving the cutie two dollars. “And here you go,” I say to his friend, giving him a dollar. “I know it’s all going to the same place, but I didn’t want you to feel neglected,” I said to the man’s friend, as I divided up the money into their two cans. I smile at them both, saying: “thank you so much for serving our country.”
He tipped his hat, which I now thought was adorable.
And then…I saw a women who was blindly walking by them pause and stop after hearing my words. She turned to them and genuinely said “yes, thank you for your service.”
I may not have been at my best 30 minutes ago with the top soil, but I am here now. My impact has made someone else stop and say “thank you.” I sighed to myself thinking: “I am exactly where I need to be.” Right now. The timing is Godly.
I went home, top soil now in the trunk, and my neighbor stops by to say hello. He asks how I’m doing, about the kids, and then I look at him and say: “Hey, while you’re here, would you mind helping me get some top soil out of my car?”
This weekend many Jews around the world will recite “Hazak, hazak, v’nithazek” (be strong, be strong, let us be strengthened!) as we end one book of the Torah and begin another.
My strength today was not in how I was able to hoist three heavy bags of soil into my cart. Indeed, that was my biggest weakness.
My strength was in allowing others who cared into my life – even a stranger. And maybe, to let someone help me along the way, too.
I have nothing to prove to anyone about my physical strength. Instead, I hope what I offer to others from the depths of my heart – even when it’s a little delayed – represents the strongest woman that I know I can be. Sometimes strength is in our softness.