I had already seen him in the store. He had walked past me and, while I’m really not in the habit of scrutinizing others’ cart contents, I happened to notice that his contained a really haphazard array of boxes. I didn’t worry about it, though; I carried on with my own shopping. I only had a few things to grab, and I had a busy day planned.
I saw him double up and then slow to a stop. He paused, right next to me.
“Excuse me,” he began, and I met his gaze. His eyes were very blood-shot. His hands shook, just a bit. He had a toddler girl in the front of his cart. She was cute, if a bit disheveled.
He continued, “Do you know this store well? Do you shop here often?”
I nodded, “I do a lot of my monthly shopping at Aldi. Are you looking for something?”
He looked down, shuffled an untied sneaker, “Would you be able to recommend some ideas for suppers? Some things that, um, don’t cost too much money?”
I juggled my few items and reminded my three-year-old to use two hands on the grapes. I tried to sneak another glance in his cart. I wanted to gauge his comfort level with cooking. Crackers… cookies… instant potatoes?
“Well, there’s pasta and rice right down this aisle. They sell frozen chicken breasts in a bag; they’re easy to cook up. And frozen veggies…” I tossed out a couple ideas. I wondered how long I had been there. I really wanted to get G. home, fed, and down for a rest.
He nodded, opened his mouth to ask something, and his little girl piped up, “Mommy went to heaven.”
His eyes filled. “Shh…” he whispered gently, “yes, yes she did.”
And my heart simply broke open onto the floor.
“What do you like to eat, sweetheart?” I asked her. She shrugged.
“She likes sweet potatoes,” he said, “but I have no idea how to cook them. Um… do you know?”
“Yes, I know,” I said, grabbing a 99-cent bag for him. We talked about baking, roasting, making sweet potato fries.
We walked the aisles, this young widower and I. He asked about dried beans– how do you cook those? I pointed out that, really, the fresh mushrooms were cheaper than the canned and they’re pretty much fool-proof to cook. He had hundreds of questions. I tried to give answers.
G. helped his little girl choose some tasty fresh fruits, while I ran through the merits of various fat percentages in milk.
In the end, I spent 90 minutes shopping with him.
I was behind for the whole rest of the afternoon, but that’s not really the point, now, is it?
I firmly believe I was given an important lesson that day.
And I believe God found a more important use for my time than doing laundry.