Saturdays are sacred. It’s the one day of the week that I can serve the woman who gave me and my four brothers life. The woman who nurtured us into the men and woman we’ve become. The woman who has already had to say goodbye to one son. (first one on the right…my brother, Rocky)
I can serve the woman, our mother, who taught us how to love by showing us love, never favoring one over the over. Each of us were handed a free pass of forgiveness since we inhaled our first breath, even when we all, at one time or another, made decisions that caused her pain.
I can serve the mother who gave us permission to cry, by letting her tears flow when they needed to. The mother who gave us the courage to fail so we’d inch closer to success each and every time. The Mother who taught us the feelings of a stranger are as important as the feelings of those we love. Don’t hurt either intentionally. Open your arms and welcome the homeless and those with homes. Welcome those with addictions, and afflictions, and disabilities, and those who live a more balanced life.
I can serve the mother who taught us to Be KIND. Be GENTLE. Be GRATEFUL. Be LOVING. Be PATIENT. Be ACCEPTING. BELIEVE in yourself so you will have the capacity to believe in others. Be STRONG; let your friends lean on you, because the day will arrive when you’ll need to lean on them. Be FORGIVING, because one day you’ll be asking for it from someone else. Show COMPASSION and EMPATHY for the weak and the strong, for the hurting and the lost. Yes. I can serve my mother, my teacher, one day a week and take her wherever she wants to go.
Grocery shopping used to be my mother’s social outlet where she’d bump into friends and they’d catch up at the meat counter, swap recipes, and laugh about inside jokes. What was once a joy had morphed into a daunting task that my father had taken over since Mom’s stroke. On this particular Saturday, grocery shopping was her requested destination. She wanted to roam the aisles and choose her own food, instead of those choices being made for her. With my dad’s help, we jotted down “must have” items to minimize our frustration in what used to be an ordinary task. But nothing was ordinary anymore.
Before my brother died, Mom’s world had already shrunk to the size of a grape.
Aphasia has a way of doing that to people. Her speech pathologist used to say, “People with Aphasia are the forgotten ones.” They’re left behind because attempting to communicate is too frustrating for both parties. It requires patience. Endless patience.
Imagine knowing what you want to say, but the words knot up on your tongue and come out as unintelligible. Imagine walking into a grocery store, and among the hundreds of products available, you only want a box of baking soda, but you can’t form the words.
What typically would take 30 minutes, took my mom and me three hours. Though we only had a few items on her list and mine, there were indulgences she wanted that were not written down. I was tired and took deep breaths to stave off my impatience. I bowed my head, and said a mini prayer, asking God to please make this a little easier. Then I touched my mother’s hand and began our Twenty-questions game.
Do you eat it? Yes. Is it a meat? No. Is it seafood? No. Is it in the produce section? Yes. We were getting somewhere. Ten minutes later, I struck gold. Cherry tomatoes. She wanted cherry tomatoes. I asked her to please stay put while I ran back to the produce section and grabbed cherry tomatoes.
Next, we landed in the hotdog section. “Do you want hotdogs?” No, yet she stood and scanned the rows and rows of hotdogs, picking up package after package. Another ten minutes passed when I asked, “Are you sure you don’t want hotdogs?”
She shook her head, lifted her fingers and closed them closer together, and then it hit me. Breakfast sausage links.
As I leave her in the hotdog section, I speed walk, hunting for sausage links. Five-steps later, I turned to check on her. Mom moved the cart and bumped into someone. She teared up and said, “Sorry.” And then I teared up and told my mother I was sorry for leaving her. My mother has a right field cut, which means that part of her world doesn’t exist so she pushed the cart and I pulled it from the front to steer us through the aisles. I didn’t leave her again.
Two and a half hours later, we were ready to checkout, and we both felt as if we’d scaled Everest and almost reached the peak. ALMOST. Between walking up and down the aisles, and the mental and emotional exertion of our twenty-question game playing, Mom’s battery was in need of a charge.
I divided the groceries. Hers and Mine. The groceries wouldn’t fit into one cart. As the young man loaded up a second shopping cart, I was busy devising a strategy of how I was going to maneuver two carts, and an exhausted mother who couldn’t push and steer the cart by herself, and had, at that point, become unstable on her feet.
I couldn’t leave her alone while I went to get my car. So, I had mom push one cart and I pulled it behind me, while I pushed my own in front of me. My tapped-out mother leaned on the cart and it jammed into my ankle. I hobbled outside as people walked by us.
Outside, I struggled to manage the grocery carts and my mother, frightened she was going to fall or wonder out into the parking lot and get struck by a car. And then it happened. An angel walked up to me and said, “Do you need some help.”
An emotion welled up inside of me, deeper, more profound than gratitude. I searched her back for a set of wings. I said, “Thank you. Do you mind standing with my mother while I get my car?”
I ran to my car, slid in the front seat, leaned my head on my hands and cried. What seemed like a simple gesture, safeguarding my mom for all of three minutes, was more valuable to me in that moment than a sack of gold. I pulled myself together, thanked God for making it a little easier, and drove over to Mom and the angel, who stroked my mother’s back.
The angel said, “Hell, I don’t have anything else to do today. Let me help you unload these bags into your car.”
I said, “No, really, it’s okay. I can get it.”
“Where do you want the groceries,” she asked, “in the trunk or the backseat?”
I choked on this new emotion—the one that felt deeper than gratitude. “Backseat,” I said, as I helped my mother into the passenger seat and buckled her in.
When we finished loading the groceries, the angel said, “Can I take the carts for you?”
“No,” I said, overwhelmed by her kindness. “I’ve got them.”
“I’ll take this one,” she said, and grabbed one of the carts.
As she walked away, I yelled to her, “Wait.”
She turned and I jogged toward her. “Can I give you a hug?”
“I’d love one,” she said.
We stood there in a 5-second embrace, stranger to stranger. “Thank you for helping us.”
“It was my pleasure,” the angel said. “I took care of my mother for twenty years.”
When I slid into my seat, my mother said in a perfect sentence, “She is beautiful.”
Angels walk—not fly—into our lives at the most unexpected moments. You never know how one small question, “Do you need some help?” can be a miracle in another person’s day. This woman helped us for about 8 minutes and it was the sweetest 8 minutes that I’ll remember for a lifetime.
I stared at my beautiful mother, grateful that I had another day with her, wondering where next Saturday will take us and if this time, we’ll help to make someone’s day a little easier.
Pay attention, someone needs an angel today. Maybe it will be you.
Now tell us, when did an angel walk into your life?