3: Everyone Is Helping Everyone Here

3: Everyone Is Helping Everyone Here

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

Everyone Is Helping Everyone Here

The word “funny” is a bit like the word “love” — we don’t have enough words to describe the many varieties.

~George Saunders

I’d lost Mrs. Lawson, which wasn’t good, because she was ninety-two years old, used a walker and was depending on me to get her back home. The problem with these stores is that they’re so unbelievably enormous, so when one of my senior charges doesn’t arrive back at the bus at the appointed time I start to worry. And then I start hunting.

This all started a few months ago when I ended up with some Involuntary Time Off From Work (also known as unemployment). I quickly realized how isolating it is to be unemployed. All your friends and acquaintances are somewhere else during the day. The world starts to feel a bit unreal, as if you are not really part of it.

I knew I had to do something apart from job hunting. I’d always enjoyed being around seniors so I figured that driving seniors to grocery stores would be a good use of my time.

That is how I found myself in a store like this one. Harsh lighting. Thirty long aisles. One missing comrade.

I started doing a “serpentine,” which is how I often find items for myself in a mega-store like this: starting at Aisle 1 and winding down consecutive aisles until all thirty have been covered.

After I cleared all the aisles I started looking through the checkout aisles. Note to self: It would’ve made more sense to start there.

Mrs. Larson is the arts-and-crafts master in the group of ten who I take shopping. She knits all kinds of things for her grandkids and displays them to other members on the bus. Knowing that I like to read and write, she even knitted a bookmark for me as thanks for driving her to this store each week.

I checked my watch and realized that my Search and Rescue mission had taken ten minutes. If I found Mrs. Lawson soon I’d be able to drop everyone back at home and get the bus back to the center in time for the next driver to do his rounds. If not, I’d have to call into the office. I really didn’t want to do that.

I swung past the last self-checkout machine and noticed a woman standing at the other entrance to the store. She was leaning on one of those four-pronged canes and staring out into the parking lot. Mrs. Lawson.

I laughed and chided myself for forgetting about the second entrance to the store. Another note to self: The new Search and Rescue plan is second door, then checkout aisles, then serpentine.

I walked up to Mrs. Lawson and said, “Hey Mrs. Lawson, the bus is in the other lot. Hold on a sec and I’ll be right back.” She grinned with relief and shook her head.

I ran back to the bus, fired it up, and rolled toward the other side of the store. None of the other nine people complained about the additional wait. That’s one thing I’ve learned from doing this job — seniors have learned from time and experience that mistakes are just that, and there’s no need for blame and recrimination. They’ve also learned that it makes no sense to always be in a hurry. It’s funny; you start a job like this thinking that you’re the one providing services and helping others. But the others help you just as much, if not more.

Halfway across the parking lot Mrs. Roberts started singing. She’s the gregarious one, the one who acted on Broadway long ago. From behind me I heard her chant: “Tom lost Mrs. Lawson, Tom lost Mrs. Lawson.”

Soon the others joined in. I glanced in the mirror and saw four pairs of seniors singing, laughing and bumping shoulders. They looked like schoolchildren on a field trip.

I flashed a faux expression of menace and barked, “Don’t make me pull this bus over!”

As we pulled up to Mrs. Lawson, the bus dissolved into howls of laughter. I joined in, which is something I hadn’t done enough lately. But my senior citizen buddies were there to help me with that, too.

~Thomas Sullivan

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