An elderly couple, a lady with an oxygen tank, and an ancient woman in the most splendid marigold and red sari walk into a crowded waiting room.
No, it’s not a setup for a terrible joke, although it could be. There were no seats.
A pregnant woman looked up, then down at her belly—exempted.
I stood, taking my place against the wall. The elderly man nodded at me, motioned for his wife to sit. The lady with the oxygen tank and the dazzling ancient woman waited. But the room was a fluorescent still life. Heads bent over iPads, phones, and magazines: distracted into obliviousness.
It wasn’t that they didn’t care; it was that they didn’t notice.
On my way home, I was running behind schedule, but decided to make a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up some fresh fruit for my father-in-law who is coming for an impromptu visit. If I timed it right, I could get back in time to surprise a client ahead of deadline and still get to the dishes before the end of the day.
I did my best supermarket sweep impression, tackling the aisles at mega-speed and, eyeing my small basket, gratefully found an Express lane.
Unfortunately, that was a misnomer. The older woman in front of me was moving like molasses. This is the south, Jersey Girl, I reminded myself. She is older, I added. Have some patience, I chided.
As I put the fruit on the conveyor belt, I was thinking about a new client’s project. As I loaded on the milk and eggs, I was thinking about how I should really clean off our front porch so my father-in-law doesn’t see the weird cardboard contraptions the kids left out in the rain. As I added the French toast sticks to the pile, I was thinking about whether I should’ve gotten waffles, unsure of which toaster item had fallen out of favor. And then, I pulled out my phone and started looking at my emails.
I almost missed it.
The woman had walked out of the store, leaving her bagged groceries behind so she could find out why there wasn’t enough money on her card.
Because I was in the grocery store, but really on my front porch, at my breakfast table, and in my office, I almost didn’t realize that $23.10 meant the difference between the woman eating today, or having to wait until a relative deposited money into her account tomorrow.
Her name was Barbara Johnson, which I know because after the cashier ran out to tell her she could take her groceries home, she took my hand and asked for my name. She wanted to add me to her prayer list.
Although I am not given to prayer, I was deeply moved. What a wonderful list to be on. Not someone’s to-do list, to worry about list, or shit-list. I’m on Barbara Johnson’s prayer list. That’s what I’m going to tell my Father-in-law when he jokes about our messy porch, or my kids when they complain that I got French toast sticks instead of waffles. My client will still get his project early, though not quite as early as he might have. But somehow I think if he knew he got bumped from the express lane for Barbara Johnson, he wouldn’t mind one bit.