From Chicken Soup for the Romantic Soul

A Fragment in Time

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Martin Luther King Jr.

The day was a total disaster from the moment I awoke. The dog had decided the cat was a most interesting chew toy, much to the cat’s indignant cries, and if that was not enough, the toilet overflowed onto newly installed carpet. The cat, once again in a pickle as she lifted each paw in disgust and shook the water from it, looking at me accusingly as if I had made her life miserable on purpose.

As I entered the kitchen to get a cup of coffee, I heard a scratching sound coming from my cabinet. I slowly opened the door as quietly as I could, and sitting in the back munching on a box of Cheerios was the fattest mouse I had ever seen!

I sighed and closed the door, hoping he was enjoying his breakfast. After all, the Cheerios were ruined anyway— he might as well have the rest! Before tonight, I would have to find some way of coaxing him out of the house and back in the field where he belonged!

I had twelve people coming for dinner and had not done the shopping. Time was slipping away, and my nerves were standing on end screaming, “Told you so!”

I locked the cat in the bedroom and scolded the dog, who looked at me with innocent eyes wondering what he did in the first place. Then I donned my coat and, totally frazzled, headed for the store.

There was a chill in the air as I pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store. The wind’s icy fingers tugged at my coat as I hurried towards the door of the supermarket. I grabbed a buggy, and of course the wheels refused to go in the right direction, clattering through the aisles. Fine! I grumbled to myself. A perfect ending to an already perfect day. I decided that at least I would win the battle of the shopping cart. I shoved the cart next to the cashier’s aisle and chose another that was more cooperative. Ahh, the sound of silence and smooth wheels; it didn’t take much to bring a ray of sunlight into my life that day.

As I was standing in the produce section pinching the avocados, I heard that familiar annoying rattle of wheels, and I turned to the unfortunate person who’d obviously chosen my old buggy to say, “You have the shopping cart from hell!” What I saw changed the rest of my day into one I will never forget.

An elderly man with white hair and a face that was etched with wrinkles was pushing a hospital stretcher with one hand and pulling the basket from hell with another. He didn’t notice the clatter or the wheels that went in different directions. He was busy guiding his wife, who laid upon the stretcher, closer to the produce so she could have a look.

She was a frail woman with gray at the temples and large blue eyes. Her hands and feet were twisted in odd directions and she could not raise her head but a tiny bit. He would pick up a piece of fruit and, with a sweet smile, hold it close to her, and she would nod her head and smile in return. They greeted everyone with a smile and a nod of their heads and didn’t seem to mind that they were the subject of gawking and attention. Some people shook their heads in disgust that he would bring a stretcher into the grocery store; others whispered disapprovingly that they didn’t belong.

I watched as he picked up a loaf of bread and touched her hand so softly. The connection between the two of them filled the space with so much love that it was palpable. I realized I was staring, as if to hold them in that moment of enchantment. Concerned that I was intruding, I forced my eyes to look away. I turned back to the avocado that was resting in my hand and noticed I had squeezed it a little too hard. I placed it back in the rack and moved to the dairy aisle, trying to catch another glimpse of this couple who seemed to be a magnet for my heart.

They had moved on to another part of the store, and I didn’t see them again until I was finished with shopping and back in my car. I started the engine, and suddenly noticed that there, next to my car, was the elderly man and his wife. His vehicle had been parked next to mine, and as he put the groceries in the front of his van, his wife waited patiently on the stretcher.

He hurried to the back of the van, and a gust of cold wind blew the blanket off of her frail body. He lovingly tucked it back around her as you would tuck in a child before bed, reached down and placed a kiss on her forehead. With a twisted hand, she reached up and touched his face. Then, they both turned to look at me and smiled. I returned the smile with tears rolling down my cheeks.

What tugged at my heart and brought tears to my eyes was not the condition either of them was in. It was the love and laughter they shared in going to the store together and being as they always had been . . . in love and needing each other.

The man placed the stretcher in the back of the van and made sure it was secure, and then he came around to the driver’s side and stepped in. As they were leaving, he looked at me once again and smiled with a wave, and as he pulled out of the lot, I saw a small hand wave from the back of the van, and the most beautiful, vibrant blue eyes returned my gaze.

Sometimes in life one is struck with an astounding realization— that within a moment of time, which seems to move in slow motion, one can grasp the total beauty of life and love in its purest form. It plays before your eyes like an old black-and-white movie with only the sound of silence and the movement of the actors who, without words, will touch your heart. In that fragment of time, sitting in the parking lot, I felt the pure radiance of the profound, unconditional love of two perfect strangers who crossed my path on what I had thought was going to be a disastrous day.

I started for home with my car full of groceries and my heart full of hope. This couple had taught me a priceless lesson—that the little things don’t matter, and the big things are just small hurdles when there is enough love.

Victoria Robinson

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