Today a strange man approached me. Well, he wasn’t actually strange as in green ears and three arms; he was just strange to me. In other words, I didn’t know the guy.
But there he was, walking straight in my direction, giving obvious eye contact, in aisle 12 at the grocery store — like we were old buds. He was an elderly gentleman, perhaps old enough to be my father, so I wasn’t too threatened. Just surprised. And perhaps curious. It felt odd.
I looked to my left and to my right. Was he really approaching me or was there another person who served as the object of his purposeful gait toward my socially-distanced, face-covered self?
No one was near me (or him). No one else could be the source of his attention. I stood, feeling a bit trapped, on aisle 12 pretending to examine the ingredients on the label of a pickle jar.
There was no escape path. I waited for the ball (or in this case the pickle) to drop.
“Excuse me,” he said. At least he was a polite sort.
I looked up from my jar. He was shorter than I’d thought. And thinner. Definitely old enough to be my dad, in fact he sort of resembled him. Somehow I found that comforting.
“I’m wondering if you could help me,” he continued. “Do you know where I can find the salt? We are out of salt and my wife wants me to bring some home and I’ll be darned if I can find it anywhere.”
At those last words he threw his hands in the air to emphasize his plight.
I breathed a sigh (of relief). Salt. This guy needed salt. It was a simple request. In fact, while standing near the pickles we were only two aisles over from spices on aisle 10.
I not only provided directions, but I walked with him to make sure he chose the iodized version. Labels can be so tricky these days — as can goiters.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been approached at the store for insight or information — and I even make it a point not to wear blue or red to any store for fear of being mistaken for an employee. I guess I just have that look about me.
I like to think of it as a look of intelligence, but knowing where the iodized salt is doesn’t exactly require intelligence so much as it requires familiarity. I am familiar with various grocery aisles.
I guess it shows.
I’m not sure if this is something to be proud of. Let me restate that: I am sure this is definitely not something to be proud of. But it comes with experience. And life. And love.
And those are all things one should definitely be proud of.
Experience. I know aisle 12 from aisle 10 like the back of my hand because I’ve had my family’s back for years and years. I anticipate their food consumption needs and fulfill them. Over and over again. It’s actually one of the more appreciated jobs a mom can complete — filling the freezer with edibles. Corn dogs and sliders are valued more than glass cleaner or light bulbs.
Life. Let’s contemplate that huge subject. Life has taught me to attempt to understand the needs of others. An elderly man approaching me at the grocery store is not an intrusion or irritation. It is simply an elderly man needing advice. Life should dictate that anyone in my situation give him the 30 seconds required to provide the help he needs. This should be done without angst. Someday we will all be older and in need of salt.
Finally let’s tackle the subject of love. It’s the biggest one of all. If you can’t operate under the guise of experience or life, please do so under the umbrella of love. It is the greatest gift we can give anyone — spouse, best friend, child, stranger or anyone in between. If someone random reaches out to you for whatever reason and you answer in the name of love, you have the experience required to have this thing called life figured out.
It is all about human connections and relationships and giving people what they need when they do or don’t ask for it. Especially during a pandemic. Especially and definitely when it involves salt (the iodized kind) on aisle 10.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Don’t miss a slice; follow the Slices of Life page on Facebook.