A visit to the grocery store changes the way I look at
Patience is a virtue. One of the many I lack. Never more evident than when I
am grocery shopping.
Some days the only time I get out of the house is when I force myself to
head to the market to buy what I need for dinner. Oftentimes I go there with
absolutely nothing in mind and find myself inspired by the aromas of
fresh-baked bread or slow-roasted chicken. I enjoy the experience, except
for the crowded vegetable section of the store. This is where most people
slow down so they can inspect, fondle, smell, and squeeze until they have
discovered that one grapefruit, that special cantaloupe that everyone else
I can be seen, plastic bag in hand, waiting, moaning, and huffing as I
finally slump over my cart in frustration. In just a few seconds I'm in and
out, green pepper in hand and on my way to the scale to slap that sticker on
it. No big deal for me.
Except for yesterday.
I decided to pick up some string beans. Of all the sections in the vegetable
market, the string bean people move the slowest. One bean at a time. "Oh,
Lord give me patience!" I said to myself as I approached the counter.
There, blocking access with his cart, was an elderly man. His messy white
hair, flipped up in the back, made him look like a 80-year-old hippie. He
was average height and looked much like a string bean himself. Thin and
frail-looking, he moved slowly and his hands seemed to tremble as he
searched through the pile of beans.
Without turning his head toward me, he said, "It takes time to find the
right ones. There's an art to this, you know."
"I didn't realize that," I said. "Although that explains why everyone spends
so much time here. They're artists."
"I see them as people," he replied.
"The beans?" I asked.
"Yes." he said in a matter-of-fact tone.
"See this one? This short, stubby one would tend to get passed over. Its
appearance doesn't fit the perfect image of a long, thin, crisp bean. Most
likely, after too much handling, the clerk will toss it out thinking no one
wants it. So I take it. People don't know what they are missing, passing up
this one," he continued.
"Now I know this curved one won't be used either. Some people see food as
more than nourishment. It's all in the presentation. The image of a few
select beans, all of the same length, lying on a plate nestled perfectly
next to the entrée, supposedly adds to the enjoyment of the meal. I for one
see my food as representing life itself. The world is full of texture, odd
shapes and sizes. My world is not perfect. Nor is my dinner plate," he said.
Suddenly I realized that we were the only ones in this aisle. Very unusual
for this time of day. I was calm and very attentive to everything this man
was saying. Also unusual.
"Yes, this pile of beans reminds me that people come into my life in all
sizes. Some are broken like this one. Others are still attached to the vine
where they were nourished and protected and oftentimes were ripped away from
their roots, carrying with them resentment and fear. Like this bean, the
vine needs to be removed so that it can be seen in its full beauty and not
one clinging to things of the past," he said as he tossed them in his bag.
A few minutes had passed as I stood in silence just watching the old man as
he dug deep into the pile, turning and tossing them from the bottom as one
would stir a salad.
"Well, I must go now," the man said. "I'll leave you with these 'human
beans.' Be kind to them. Don't judge them just by looks. Inside everyone of
them is the same life-giving elements. But like people, many will never be
given the chance," he said.
"So they end up on the bottom, tossed aside?" I asked.
"The difference is," he replied, "as people we have a choice not to settle
for the garbage heap."
He tied the top of the plastic bag and turned away, missing the cart
completely as he tried to place it inside.
"Sir, let me get that for you," I said.
"Every once in a while I misjudge the distance. I've
been blind all of my life. You'd think I'd have this worked out by now."
Blind? I couldn't believe it. Suddenly a young lady appeared from around the
"Poppa! I'm over here, straight ahead of you. Would you like me to pick out
some nice tomatoes?"
"No, honey. I know just what I need," he said.
Turning back toward where I was standing, he whispered, "She's always in
such a hurry. She'll miss the best ones. Have a great day!"
What insight. What vision this old man had. A blind man helped me to see
what joy I had been missing in the simple act of shopping for vegetables. I
wonder what else I have been blind to in the hurry of my day.
By the way, tonight we are having brussel sprouts. I can't wait to get back
to the market.