On this particular day at the Fresh Market, I wandered aimlessly, as I often do when surrounded by so many delicacies. As I stood in the bakery, justifying my need to slip peanut butter cookies into my cart, my thoughts were interrupted by an irritated voice.
Realizing a woman was standing just several feet away and directing conversation to me, I strained to hear what she was saying. "So odd," she said, then repeating herself in a raised tone, "He's just so odd." She glanced in the direction of a man standing in front of the bakery counter deciding on a pastry though he was completely unaware of her critique.
The man looked disheveled, and I noticed that part of his hair was a bit crooked. As he began to push his cart in our direction, I noticed he dragged one foot. "He should buy a fruitcake!" an ill-mannered reference to him being different, the surly women quipped, and then just walked away.
Though never quick with comebacks, those old Taylor Swift lyrics resurrected themselves and I thought to myself, "Why you have to be so mean?" The man shuffled past me toward the dairy section, and I hoped he hadn't heard.
My face began to flush, and I began to anger at the unkind comments. "If he should buy a fruitcake, then I should buy one too," I told myself, thinking of my own brokenness and inadequacies. Her remarks continued to bother me, and I decided I would try to speak to the man.
I noticed he was approaching the checkout line, so I steered my basket just behind him, hoping for an opportunity to interact. Realizing someone was behind him, he slowly turned and faced me.
My basket was laden with groceries, the bounty of a home filled with boys. His basket contained three items. Before I said a word, he offered in a slow but gentle voice, "Would you like to go ahead of me? You are welcome to go first."
A bit caught off guard by his graciousness, I quickly replied, "Oh no, no... I have so many more items than you. But thank you, thank you for being so kind and thoughtful."
I watched as he paid for his groceries and slowly pushed his basket into the rainy evening.
I loaded my own groceries, and then just sat for a moment behind the steering wheel and watched the raindrops shatter on the windshield. My eyes filled with tears. A chance encounter with a thoughtless woman and a thoughtful man.
One haughty, one humble. One judgmental, one graceful. One unloving, one lovely.
It's funny how often those ordinary insignificant moments of life seem to impact us. An unexpected lesson in kindness. An unexpected teacher.
And as I pulled out of the parking lot into the stormy night, I decided I would be serving fruitcake this coming Christmas as a little reminder.