A Profound Interaction with A Stranger

by Holly Lentz Kleeman, presented at July 1 Shabbat service

I am fortunate to have been blessed with many profound moments in my life.  Many of these moments are what you would envision – the birth of a child, a tender moment with a loved one, a breakthrough about faith.  But I have found that there are less obvious encounters that can be quite profound as well.  I want to share one of these with you.

This past January I needed to pick up something from CVS.  This is the place I go when I am in a hurry – it’s close by.  I don’t remember what I had to get, but I do remember I was a little irritated and not feeling particularly social.  So I drove to CVS, walked in with purpose, and made a bee line to the isle with the product I needed.  Once I had it, I started to the front of the store to pay.  To get to the front of the store I passed through the Christmas isle.  There was not much left, but everything was 75% off.  A bag of Reeses cups caught my eye and made me slow down.  You see, holiday chocolate tastes exactly the same as non-seasonal chocolate! 

As I lifted the bag of chocolate, I noticed a woman half talking to herself.  She was very concerned about which ornament to buy for her daughter.  At that moment she asked a stranger which of the three she thought was better.  The stranger shrugged her off, which only made the women more concerned and a bit panicked.  I could see the anxiety building, so I thought I would toss out my quick opinion.  “ I really like that one the best.” I pointed to one of the three and the woman looked over at me.  “Really?  Do you?  Do you think my daughter would like it?  She is just married and she needs ornaments.  I want to get her one of these but I don’t know which one. . .”  At this point the other people in the isle have slowly walked away.  The woman seemed unstable and nobody wanted to be around it.  Tears were swelling in her eyes.  I decided to give a bit more of my time.  “Well, I like this one because of the color and the cute bell on it.  Does your daughter like bells?”  The woman looked deeply in my eyes and broke down.  “I don’t know.  I just want to show her I love her.  She is making terrible mistakes and is pushing me away.  If I buy her this ornament, maybe she will know I care, but maybe she won’t.” 

Now I am completely unsure of what to do, but I certainly cannot walk away.  We spend the next 30 minutes in that Christmas isle talking about children and parents.  We talk about how children push away those they love the most and how much it can hurt.  I share personal stories from my own family – my siblings and even myself.  She shares more details of her situation, her family, her loneliness, and her daughters pushing her away.  I explain how we all, at one time, pushed my mother away, but we all came back.  Now she is touching my arm, and we both are feeling pretty emotional. I just go in for a big hug, which she seems relieved to receive.  I’m not a big hugger, but it just felt right.  Then, she wiped her eyes and told me that she is all alone and has nobody to talk to anymore.  She shares that she is embarrassed that she cried in the middle of CVS.  I am in tears now too. . . hurting for her.  I assure her she is not alone.  She has two daughters that love her but may show it differently now.  I suggest that she just focus on how much she cares about them, and not worry so much about their mistakes.  “Maybe they need your unconditional love as much as you need theirs.”  Then, this woman thanked me, and said, “You have helped me so much, and you don’t even know me.”  I assured her that there have been times when I needed somebody too.  We all need people.  I am just glad I was there when she needed me.  And the truth is, I believe she helped me much more than I helped her.  Her personal crisis slowed me down, took off my blinders, and enabled me to become a caring human being for 30 minutes – even though it was not in my schedule.  I will always be grateful to her for that.