X is for “eXcuse me!”

“Excuse me. Do you need a hand?”


Yesterday, the baby-faced checker turned around and offered his help to the woman at the register behind him. She was in one of those scooter carts and couldn’t reach the groceries in its basket.

Obviously people had helped her throughout the store. The eggs were safely placed at the back of the basket along with some produce.

“Be careful with those,” she said, as he put the eggs on the belt.

“Handle them gently,” she cautioned, as he picked up a bag with tomatoes in it.

He apologized to me when he finally turned to start scanning my groceries. He was a big boy, tall, broad, with round cheeks and curly hair. I’m sure this was his first job, and it was obvious that he had been raised right.

“No worries,” I said. “I’m glad you could help her.”

We are always surrounded by people who need help. Sometimes they ask — like the lady who asked me if I knew anything about clams, again at the grocery store.

“Umm, no, I really don’t,” I told her. “Sorry.”

She sighed a heavy sigh. “The recipe calls for littleneck clams and he doesn’t have any.” She nodded her head toward the man at the fish counter. “He has other kinds, but he admitted that he doesn’t know the difference between them.”

“Let’s ask Siri,” I said, pulling out my phone.

Siri and I are besties. My children groan when I ask her questions. I was glad none of them were with me.

Siri pulled up a webpage about clams — and, at the same time, the man at the fish counter had my order ready. I handed my phone to the lady so she could read the information and went to get my order.

“Wait –” Laurel said, when I was telling her the story. “You handed your phone to a total stranger?!”

“She had a little girl with her,” I said, “and I was standing right there.” I wasn’t terribly worried about my phone.

My friend Amy, the one organizing the trip to Bosnia, told me how her Bosnia connection had begun. Many years ago she and her husband had seen a family huddled together at one of the New York airports wearing colored tags that identified them as refugees. “Can we help you?” they asked — and thus began a lifelong friendship.

I have a friend traveling today to Haiti with her husband, one of many steps in their long road to adoption. I hope people help them along the way — as they themselves go to help.

Sometimes people need physical help. Sometimes they’re lost. Sometimes they’re just knackered and need a little encouragement.

The world is a better place when we look for ways to help.


The collage above is only two pictures — the little girl from Humpty Dumpty’s Holiday Stories illustrated by Kelly Oechsli, and the old man from A Boy Who Wants a Dinosaur by Hiawyn Oram and Satoshi Kitamura. They just seemed to belong together.

In the Parking Lot

I never know what I’m going to see in the parking lot at the local grocery store.

In the village of Cooperstown, there is one — yes, only one — grocery store.

I go there often. My father’s refrigerator is small, and we go through perishables fairly quickly. I started keeping a chart of how often I go to the grocery because I felt like I was going every day. It turns out that out of 50 days, I only went 36 times.

I never know what I’m going to see there. Once, I saw Mrs. Claus pushing a shopping cart up the parking lot hill to her car.

Yesterday, I stood behind an elderly man at the check-out. He paid for his groceries and handed his change back to the cashier.

“I think I owe you this,” he said. She shook her head in protest and smiled at him.

As he headed for the door, he turned and said to her, “See you tomorrow.”

Another person who goes to the store nearly every day.

As soon as he was out of sight, she put the loose change he had just given her into the container at the checkout for the this month’s charity — I think it’s Muscular Dystrophy.

“I tell my boyfriend that I have a sugar-daddy,” she said to me. “He gives me quarters every day.”

We both laughed, and she told me how he comes in every day and goes through her line.

“Once he brought me a poem,” she said. “It was strange and I didn’t understand it.”

Poetry can be like that.

I thought about my father and the way he focuses on young women who smile and are friendly. With him, I get irritated about the whole thing. It’s a fixation that bothers me, but I know that it shouldn’t.

The man at the grocery store didn’t bother me in the least. I could see how lonely he was. And old. And slightly confused.

I paid for my groceries and headed out to the parking lot. The man was standing in the middle of it, a look of consternation on his face.

“I can’t find my car,” he said, and I could hear the panic in his voice.

“What kind of car do you have?” I asked him.

“It’s a blue Ford, but I can’t find it anywhere,” he said, one hand on his cart, the other fumbling with his keys.

“Well, let’s see,” I said, and I began to look around.

With minimal effort, I found a blue Taurus and pointed to it. “Is that your car?” I asked.

A huge smile broke out on his face. “Yes! Yes, that’s it,” he said. “Thank you so much.”

I watched him push his little cart to the car and was grateful I could help.

As I drove home, I hoped he could remember where he left his house.

I’ll have to ask the cashier about it when I see her today.