I stopped in at a Walmart yesterday. Not the brightest move I’ve ever made, I must admit. All the usual Christmas craziness was on parade: bright-eyed children asking, no, pleading, for toys. Harried moms of all shapes, ages, and ethnicities asking, no, pleading for them to be good for just a few more days. Weary clerks just waiting for their shifts to end.
And there I was, an island of calm in the midst of chaos. All I needed was a bag of pecan halves to make my famous pecan pie for Christmas dinner. Ten minutes should have been sufficient for this errand.
Finding the pecans seemed simple enough, except all of the bags I found on the baking aisle were pecan pieces. I insist on pecan halves because they rise so beautifully to the top during baking. Almost like magic.
I couldn’t find a clerk, so I wandered to a center aisle thinking the pecan halves might’ve been moved to a holiday display. I found a likely looking spot, but at first glance, not the right pecans. A pleasant, well groomed woman, maybe a few years my senior, was also perusing the display.
“Excuse me,” I said, “Have you seen any pecan halves? All I can find are the pieces.”
With a bit of a flourish she lifted a bag from a lower shelf. “Voila!”
“Thank you!” I said. “These are exactly what I was looking for!”
I began to turn away, when the woman said, “You could make divinity with the leftover pecans.”
“I suppose I could,” I said. “But my husband won’t eat divinity and I’d end up eating the entire batch.”
She laughed. “My husband only wants cherry pie for Christmas dessert. I used to make pecan pies for our son and grandson, though.”
Again I started to turn away, but she said, “They we’re both killed in a car accident. On the interstate between Jacksonville and Orlando.”
My heart lurched, and time stopped. “I’m so sorry. How long ago?”
“Four years. My grandson was just twelve. I think about them both every day.”
Then she told me how an erratic driver, lane surfing had taken the lives of two of the people most precious to her. He’d had multiple tickets for a variety of violations, but still had a license.
I hugged this stranger. In the middle of Walmart beside shelves of pecan halves and pecan pieces we stood and cried.
She apologized for upsetting me. “I can’t believe I just told all this to a stranger,” she said. “But I think all of my friends are sick of hearing how sad I am. They want me to get over it, or to at least stop talking about it.”
“Sometimes a stranger is just the right person to talk to,” I said. “I’m glad I came in search of pecans. Thanks again for helping me.”
She hugged me again and we wished each other a Merry Christmas. She and her husband were going to her daughter’s home for Christmas dinner, she told me. She assured me she’d be all right. “You found the right pecans, but I found the right stranger,” she said.
We never know, do we? In the rush of the day, in the quest for some mundane object, we might find not only what we need, but be the answer to someone else’s need. Slow down. Listen. Be present. You might find exactly what you’re looking for.