Wednesday, March 4, 2009

angel at the grocery store


  Audio reading of this essay HERE  

I teach winter camping for an outdoor school in the Northern Rockies. After a two-week course, it’s nice to get the stink out of the down sleeping bag. This is no casual undertaking. A negative 40 degree winter bag is huge, and it only fits in the biggest washing machine at the Laundromat, and it takes forever to dry.

I was at the local Laundromat on the main street in my little town. Stuck there with that down bag in the dryer. I would open the door, feel the dampness and add another quarter.

It was a quiet day, and I was sharing the Laundromat with a family of Mexican immigrants. The young couple had a few kids running around, they didn’t seem to speak any English, so all I could do is periodically smile at them.

The set up of these big industrial dryers is a little bit awkwardly, one is on top of the other, and there are two sets of buttons that control the two units. I was using the bottom, and the Mexican family had the dryer on top. I added a quarter, and I realized it was the WRONG slot. I had just mistakenly given the family an extra seven minutes of time.

No biggie. But, I somehow manged to do this two more times. I just “gave” the Mexican family 75 cents. Why was I so confused about using a dryer?

I wasn’t interested in asking the family for my money, that seemed silly. At the same time, I went through all kinds of weird liberal guilt about what I had done. I played it out in my head, had I just altruistically helped these poor people? Wasn’t it a nice, that I - the privileged white American - could be so selfless. I immediately recognized how pathetic and useless that avenue of thinking was, and I just dismissed the whole thing.

Not too long later, the sleeping bag was dry, and I left.

From the Laundromat, I went directly to the local Grocery store. I got what I needed and stood in line at the check out with my few items.

As I inched forward in the line, I noticed the checkout girl. The strange thing was, in my head, I immediately announced to myself, “She’s an angel!”

I was awestruck.

She was young and extremely pretty. She had dark hair and dark eyes, and I assumed she was Mexican. As she helped the customers ahead of me in line, she was quiet and smiling. There was something so radiant and pleasant about her, and the silent way she went about her job, that it left me genuinely touched.

I get up to the cash register, she rings up the few things on the conveyor belt, and I pull out my wallet to pay.

But, I didn’t have enough cash. She shows me the total, and I realize I am exactly 75 cents short. I was embarrassed and said I would return an item to the shelf. She didn’t speak, she casually pantomimed to me not to worry. Then she reached under the counter separating us, and she pulled up her purse. She dug through it, pulled out a little change purse, and calmly counted out three quarters and put them in the cash register. She smiled, I thanked her, and walked away.

I have never seen her before or since.

As I review this event from a few years later, the thing that impresses me is the life lesson, that I needed in my life, right then.

I had been through a lot of difficult emotional stuff in the previous years, a lot of isolation and depression. It's sad to admit but something as normal as people being nice to me would induce anxiety, I felt like I wasn’t “worthy” to receive kindness. Even simple things would be challenging. I wouldn’t let friends buy me lunch, or if someone complimented some job I had done, I would awkwardly find a way to deny their praise.

But, on this day in the grocery store, the very lovely cashier did something nice, and the weird synchronicity seemed to disarm me to the point where I smiled (truly smiled!) said an honest thank you - and moved on.

Since that day, I feel like I’ve been really good at saying thank you. And that was a really important hurdle in my life.


Added June 2011:
I recorded myself reading this post, it's short and sweet. It's under 4 minutes long, and it was the third thing I posted on this blog, and it one of the most heart-warming synchronicities I've ever experienced.

  Listen to this short little essay HERE  

About that Mexican cashier in the story. She said nothing at all, to me or to the customers ahead of me in the line. She simply smiled and pantomimed everything.

In this essay I said that the Mexican cashier was pretty. Well, let me clarify that. You know who she looked like?

If you were doing a movie about the birth of Christ, and you needed to cast a beautiful young woman to play the role of the Virgin Mary, this girl would be who you would hire. Yes, she looked like the incarnation of Mary, mother of Jesus.

It is as if I had come face to face with an archetype of a mystical kind of purity and sweetness. This silent cashier was the embodiment of a subtle kind of perfect beauty. I had never seen anyone that radiated something so kind and calm—except this silent cashier. The Blessed Virgin/Angel/Cashier I saw looked very much like the actress Catalina Sandino Moreno. The girl I saw was barely 20. 

Catalina Sandino Moreno



Mike Clelland! said...

From Gibbs Williams via the SYNCHRONICITY web-site.


M C - Your name sounds very familiar. Maybe we met in a past life. Your touching synchronicity embedded in yor revealing psychological contexts validates my naturalsitic theory of synchronicities.

Synchronicities are markers that a seemingly unresovable psychological problem as been solved.You had been struggling with the issue of not feeling worthy in being given to.

Your own act of 75 cent kindness was your own unconscious pushing the boundaries of your here to fore conflict about giving.

This act of yours was a signal that you had found a creative solution to your conflict of giving and taking.

I believe had you not pre consciously solved your issue - the kind act of the "angel" would have been noted but proably not with the 'numinosity' you clearly must have experienced.

This, of course, we will never know directly. In my view = you were as much of an angel to yourself paralleling the kindness of the pretty girl.

(from a comment May 17, 2010)

Mike Clelland! said...

LINK to the SYNCHRONICITY web-site where this story is re-posted (with lots of nice comments)

tinyjunco said...

Mike a wonderful story wonderfully told :)

and lord, that depresso-useless-thinking sounds disgustingly familiar. Such a painful disease.

Couldn't help but notice you most likely being in an altered state of consciousness (i'm guessing medium to light trance). Two weeks in the wilderness, around other people as a teacher = being very careful to notice everything while staying calm, then a day in the laundromat with not much to do except be surround by rhythmic white noise for hours.