We arrived at the supermarket at the same moment. I jumped out of my car, impatient to be done with the seemingly endless chore of stocking the cupboards. But they took their time, this frail, elderly couple who helped one another through the process of maneuvering stiff joints and car doors.
It was difficult to determine who was leading whom as they made their way across a parking lot notorious for its jammed aisles and careless drivers.
I slowed my pace a bit just to observe his gallantry, matched only by her concern for him. This white-haired couple was bent on one thing: seeing to each other’s safety. Their devotion to one another spoke of not just years, but decades, of caring.
The supermarket we entered is one of those vast spaces, the sort of place where simply walking the aisles becomes an exercise in endurance. How in the world would they do it, I wondered. I leave exhausted even when I stop by for just a few items.
Our paths didn’t cross again for a distance that seemed the approximate size of Kansas. But I spotted them in the dairy aisle where I was scooping up cream cheese with abandon, and they were studying each item as if their very destiny hinged on the choice of cottage cheese and yogurt. Their conference might have been about the fate of the western world, not small or large curd, creamy or plain.
It struck me that what I regarded as such a routine chore was to them a serious, all-consuming matter. Food, after all, is life. And at their stage, one hopes, it also becomes one of life’s remaining pleasures.
The store was mobbed, so I lost sight of the man and woman I was now thinking of as “my” couple. I imagined them studying soup cans and salad fixings, examining packaged meats and those supermarket avalanches of fresh fruit.
I also wondered what sort of home they would be returning to. Mine, even in the long-empty nest stage, is still something of a beehive of activity, with messages flashing on the answering machine, emails piling up and the detritus of two sometimes-overloaded lives in evidence.
Did they get any messages? Did they even have an answering machine? Was the Internet an alien planet for these two? And was the expedition to the supermarket the highlight of an otherwise empty week?
Amazing, the leaps a mind can make walking down the aisle of a busy supermarket.
At the jammed check-out area, with my own overloaded cart, I stepped into the line that now snaked around the front of the store. And then I spotted my couple leaning together nearby, surveying the grand display of flowers.
I watched them as they looked over the roses, the mixed bouquets, the small batches of simple carnations.
I wanted to run out of line and tell them, “Buy the flowers. Bring them home. Flowers are always worth it!”
Of course, I didn’t. I just watched — and hoped.
And sure enough, it was the gallant old gentleman who finally made the firm decision: flowers it would be. And roses, no less. Red ones.
I felt like cheering.
Instead, I just beamed a smile their way as they passed, making their way to the line for those with less than 10 items.
And I was delighted when the old gentleman and his lady, flowers in hand, smiled back at me.
For that single moment on an ordinary afternoon, life in my world was good. ••