It began as an unremarkable shopping trip. My husband, John wandered off on a mission of his own making, and I browsed through the fruit and nut mixes looking for items to put in our family Easter baskets. At first, I did not notice the older woman standing nearby with her cart. She must have been muttering to herself because she explained, “I often talk to myself. You know I live alone” I looked up into a worry worn face. The wispy, finger combed hair only added to the woman’s frazzled appearance. I smiled but was stilled by the sadness I saw in her pale blue eyes. She must have sensed in me a willingness to listen, because she went on to tell me her husband had been recently diagnosed with Alzheimers and was staying at a nearby assisted living facility. We chatted a bit, each of us sharing glimpses of our story. She relayed concerns about her daughter’s belief that her father still recognized her when clearly he did not. I shared our experience with my late mother in law’s dementia but also the good things I’d heard about the facility where her husband was staying. I saw John return out of the corner of my eye, but he graciously backed away and waited down the aisle.
A few moments later, another shopper came by and I maneuvered my cart out of her way. However, the woman seemed to take my move as a desire to end our conversation. She looked up and said, “Well have a good day.” I smiled and wished her the same but went on taking some of her sadness with me.
As John and I continued our shopping, I kept looking for the woman hoping to offer another word or two. I wonder now what could be said to ease her burdens. As we were leaving the store, I saw her heading toward her car after returning her cart. I felt an urge to run after her, maybe to offer my phone number or just a hug. Instead I watched her stooped shoulders walk away, wishing I could fix what could not be fixed.
Over the next few days, I carried her sorrow on waves of remorse for not doing more. However, it was an image of Mary Magdalene that jolted me out of my selfish regret. In the image, Mary pours expensive oil on Jesus’s feet draping her hair over them. The disciples look on in shocked horror at her wastefulness. This powerful, tender image reminded me of Mary’s prescient gift. Unbeknownst to Jesus’ outraged followers, Mary was anointing the Lord in preparation for his death on a cross. As I looked at the image, I realized that we are asked to do the same. We are not asked to repair, or change others with our monetary gifts or know-it-all fixes. We are asked to do something far more challenging. We are asked to anoint each other with something more precious to us …our time, attention and presence. Yet, maybe in doing so we will find the holy in ourselves as well as each other. ~c.h.
© Catherine Hause