I think I’m on a mission to collect moments where strength, beauty, hope, and love are shared in an instant. It’s not easy to accomplish and often I blunder at the opportunity, so I just have to wait for the next one to come along. It happens a lot at the register as I scan people’s groceries.
Once, a young lady came through the line bristling with tattoos and oddly placed piercings. She was sweet and easy to josh with as I scanned her groceries. I asked for her license so I could approve her alcohol purchase.
“It’s your own fault for looking so young,” I teased and she smiled back at me. She also smiled when she saw me hold her license at arm’s length and squint so I could see her birthdate.
“I know,” I said. “Nobody is gonna mistake me for being under twenty-one.”
It made her laugh. But then I said some words I wish I hadn’t.
“I probably remind you of your dad.”
Her smile became strained and then faded.
Just like moments can be packed with meaning, so can words. “Dad” is one of those words. If I had taken just a beat longer to speak, I would have avoided it.
“Is there anything else I can do for you today,” I asked, trying to move to the next moment.
“I haven’t talked to my dad in a lot of years,” she said.
I nodded. “I realize I touched on something painful,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”
“No worries,” she said as she put her smile back on.
“I’m so glad you came in and I hope you’ll come see us again,” I said. I always say that but this time I especially meant it. The moment was fleeting and I was trying to think of a way to convey that she was precious in this world.
I waved goodbye. I haven’t seen her again.
To see so much but be unable to do enough to help is… well, it’s a familiar feeling. I had it all the time as a minister. It seems all we have are fleeting moments to say or do something healing, and it’s just not enough.
On the other hand, sometimes a moment can allow for a sizeable blessing. I received one not long ago.
An older gentleman came through the line. He had a charming Caribbean accent and dark skin with startling gray hair in his beard, on his head, and up and down his arms. He was about my age, bursting with energy and good will. His shoulders and biceps were built up, and his hands and wrists were sinewy.
We may about the same age but that’s about where the similarity ends. I was a pasty white guy in a frumpy uniform, with slumping shoulders, and tired feet.
I couldn’t help but admire the guy.
“Are you in competition, sir?” I asked, pointing to his shirt advertizing weight lifting.
“Me? No no!” His eyes glowed and his smile was bright. This is the gym where I pump iron all the time.”
“Here’s your change, sir. Have a great day.”
“I will,” he said. He pinned me with his shining countenance and said, “You and I, brother. We gonna keep on, aren’t we?”
It was one old guy sharing his vitality with another. I squared my shoulders and stood a little straighter.
“Yes, my friend, we will. Thank you for coming in.”
Later, I passed the light of that blessing to another.
A woman came through the lane at the very end of my shift. I had already turned out my light but she hadn’t noticed and so I checked her through too.
Her shirt had pink ribbons on it, showing support for those who had breast cancer.
“I appreciate your shirt, ma’am.”
“Thank you,” she said. “My mother had breast cancer.”
“My sister did, too,” I said. “She died from it a long time ago.”
“My mom survived it,” she said, “but she died of something else a couple of years ago. She was only fifty. My father’s gone, too. He was only forty-nine.”
“That’s too soon to lose them, isn’t it?”
She nodded, unable to talk. It’s interesting how quickly two people could find themselves treading together in the deep waters of grief. I wanted to say something to make the moment count so I went with this:
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” I said, “It’s that the older we get, the more grief we carry. It’s the cost of living and loving.”
I couldn’t read her face. I didn’t see any tears. It was just kind of blank.
“You and I,” I said, “We are still here and we will keep living and keep moving forward.”
She nodded. Then she raised her arm and we gave each other a fist bump before she went out the door.
Lost moments. Shared moments. Moments for second chances. They don’t last long but they’re a big deal.