I got my first Christmas gift the other day: two golden delicious apples in a clear, plastic bag.
I feel like I should memorialize them.
But of course I have no idea how.
Wait til they shrivel and frame them?
I sure as heck wasn’t expecting them.
And I’m just as sure I’ll never forget them.
I was looking for cilantro—which looks like flat Italian parsley until you lean in and give it a sniff—when my fellow shopper first spoke to me:
“Ever have a pinched nerve?”
“Uh, no,” I said, looking up. “But I’ve heard it’s extremely uncomfortable.”
“Cooper River used to be my second home,” he said, “whenever I could find my way there. I walked or ran or borrowed a bike and oh how I loved that, let me tell you! But now, oooh—weee, I am good for nuthin’, know what I’m sayin’? It used to pulse straight to my hip but as God is my witness–and you is now too–it’s goin’ right down through my leg.”
“Omigosh, that’s terrible!” I said. “You must feel like you’re going to crack.”
“Well, I’ll tell ya,” he said, “I’m lucky I got other blessings. “I’m at this nice market, buyin’ some food and meetin’ some very nice folks. And ya know, there’s a door—always a door—at the end ‘a yo outstretched hand. That’s what’s so beautiful! There’s always a door that lets you pass through to the promised land! Just keep smilin’, I say, “and look for that door! Even if yo got that pain! There’s a DOOR!
“You are so right,” I said, looking at him more intently.
His beard was graying, but neatly trimmed, and he wore a red bandanna with white skulls printed on it, knotted over his scalp.
Mostly, I noticed his teeth–cause they were all shining and smiling at me.
“You got to have faith,” he continued. “Faith that things is always gonna improve! Faith that LOVE gonna find YOU! EVA-RY time! You can’t hide! And (laughing aloud): EVA-RY tIme! Don’t you try an’ hide now, hear me? Love gonna find YOU! It got ME! (Still chuckling.)
We chatted some more—about life and produce and hope–and he reached out his hand in farewell.
His left hand caught my elbow as I leaned into him for the goodbye shake.
That’s when I caught the new scent: a swirl of urine and mildew.
Surprised, I leaned back and just then noticed his clothes.
His hoodie was frayed at the neck and seemed to be missing the string.
No big deal, I immediately thought, maybe his work-at-home clothes went public for the trip to the farmer’s market.
But his coat was the gray of worn-far-too-long, and had a pretty large moth hole in front.
He still had hold of my hand when I straightened and when I looked at his face, he was grinning.
“Now, this is a special day,” he was saying, “cause I made a new friend at the market. And it’s Christmas, you know—and don’t you forget it!—cause love specially finds you at Christmas. And I just ‘bout forgot this pain in my leg cause it’s Christmas!
“You made my day,” I told him (and meant it). “Thank you so much for the chat!”
“My driver is waitin’,” he said with a bow. (Yes, a bow! And an index finger lightly tapping the skulls.)
”You a fine lady,” he told me, “and you made MY day! I know YOU gonna find love all ‘round you at Christmas!”
And he chuckled his way from the aisle.
When I finished my shopping and got to the checkout, he was finagling a pallet toward the sliding glass doors. There were boldly labeled cartons atop it: carrots, onions, russett.
And that’s when it hit me: The produce was headed to a homeless shelter and my friend of the day was a resident.
Sure enough, when I looked through the door–watching while he loaded a van—I saw a placard with white lettering on the side: Brotherhood Shelter, Philadelphia.
How did I miss that? I asked myself, and pondered it on the way to my car.
Next thing I knew, he was beside me again, holding bagged apples aloft.
“Merry Christmas,” he said, as he offered the bag. “And thank you, my lady, for your kindness.”
MY kindness? I thought with disbelief, as I accepted his gift.
“You made MY day! I reminded him. And this time, leaned in for a hug.
On the way home, I thought about Christmas: Simplicity, Kindness and Love.
And marveled about how lucky I am to find friendship wherever I go.
But I really want to honor the apples.