Tuesday, December 1, 2015


This morning as I stuck the last yogurt in a lunch and peeled the last banana, I realized that I had once again failed to plan enough food to last until my next trip to Aldi.  Silly Jen, trying to buy groceries on Saturday to last until Wednesday!!  So, since Noah and I are super European like that, we headed to Aldi after preschool dropoff to pick up some essentials to get us through the day. . .bananas, milk, apples, frozen broccoli, yogurt, and marshmallows.  ESSENTIALS.

If you have shopped at Aldi before, you're familiar with the cozy shopping experience.  If you see someone while you are getting your shopping carts, it's pretty much guaranteed you will cross paths with them again at least five more times before you leave the store.  I never say goodbye to a friend I run into in Aldi until I am pulling out of the parking lot, otherwise it is awkward when you run into them four more times.  How many times can one say goodbye, really??  There are just no goodbyes at Aldi!!  Today as I was getting my cart, there was a sweet older gentleman right next to me.  I would later find out as we stopped to chat next to the jelly that he is turning NINETY next Monday, but we'll get to that in a second.  It all started with a smile somewhere around where the potato chips transition to corn chips in Aisle 1.  I smiled at him, he smiled at us.  Smiles are magic bridges.  Noah said "Hi" as our new friend leaned over the cart and asked him if he was excited for Christmas.  Since the only thing I had to do was postponed today and we got nothin' but time, I started to tell him about the boys' excitement this morning for December and how they were going to have a hard time waiting 24 more days for Santa.  We laughed together thinking about little kids and Christmas.

"I'm still like that a little bit," he said.
"Well, you're going to have to wait 24 more days, too!" I teased him.
 "I know."  His face got just a little bit sad and I could tell he was thinking.  "Well, maybe not as excited as I used to be."  He paused for a little bit before he brightened. "But I have grandkids and even great-grandkids now!"

"Oh!!" I replied.  I love it when people tell me they have grandkids, because then you know they are going to have a lot to tell you!  Plus, I have the magic question to ask.  I say, "Do your grandkids live close by?"  I don't know when it popped into my head to start asking this question at the grocery store, but it really feels like the key that unlocks some great conversations with people.  I probably ask it at least five times a week and it never fails me.  

Today was no exception.

Time froze as we stopped there by the condiments and he started to answer.  He told me about his grandkids, and his grandson's wife who has breast cancer.  She's only 32.  They have a four year old and a one year old.  She's fighting it and she's almost done with chemo, but she's got a mastectomy and a hysterectomy coming up.  My heart started to break thinking of this mama.  "THIRTY TWO??"  I asked, with tears forming in my eyes.

"Thirty two," he replied.  "With those two little ones at home.  I wish I could go see them, but I can't travel anymore.  My wife is in a nursing home and I don't want to leave her."  

Ouch. My heart started to break a little bit more.

"Ohhhhh." I said, and I must have looked sad because he changed the subject.
"How long have you been married?" he asked.
"Twelve years!" I said proudly.  "We just had our anniversary on Sunday!  How about you?"
"My wife and I have been married for sixty nine years!"
"SIXTY NINE!!  Wow!!  That is really special."
"I go see her every day at her nursing home."
"Is it close by?" (I don't know why geography is my favorite question, but whatever.)
"It's in Greenfield.  I go see her every day but it makes me so sad because there are people there who never have visitors, they go for months without someone coming to see them.  They just sit there. . .all alone."

At this point I'm really starting to tear up, imagining all of the people at that nursing home with no one to come and see them.  Meanwhile I am mentally trying to calculate how I could find out who they are and how fast I could get to them and maybe I don't even need groceries if I just run to Greenfield right now???  

"Oh, that makes me so sad, too," was all I could say.

We stood there in silence for a moment.

"Loneliness really IS the greatest poverty isn't it?" I said, the words of Mother Teresa spinning in my mind.
"You're telling me.  I go home to an empty house after this.  It's just. . .lonely."

I felt like there was nothing more and a million things more I could say to that.

We started to walk, not really saying goodbye (Aldi rule) and we shopped our way through the rest of the store.  Noah stopped to play with the toys, I talked to a lady about fruitcake, laughed with a couple who were arguing over whether the husband needed Star Wars figurines and got all of our groceries (for today).  Eventually my new friend and I ended up past the checkout at the bagging table together.

"I hope you have a Merry Christmas!" he said, as he pushed his cart past me toward the sliding door.

I patted him on the back.  "You, too," I said. "Merry Christmas."  How much feeling could I put into those words to let him know how sorry I was to hear about the loneliness and his wife and his 32-year-old granddaughter-in-law with cancer?  Merry Christmas could barely touch it.  As I watched him shuffle his cart outside I wished I had gotten his name.  

His name!!  Maybe I could still get it.  I scanned the parking lot for him as I left, maybe it wasn't too late?  Maybe I could still find out who he was?? I thought he would be loading his groceries by me, or I might see him at the cart return, but. . . no.  I stood by my van for a moment and watched the vehicles of the other customers we had been shopping with pull out of their respective spaces.  Still he was nowhere to be seen.  I reluctantly turned away.  As I pulled out of the parking lot and headed off on the short drive home, I turned over our conversation with tears in my eyes.

Will Paul and I get to share that many years of marriage?  
There's no way to know.  
But today it feels even more important to love and appreciate my husband now, even in the midst of our thick and messy days of parenting young kids where it feels like everything- our time and money and patience- can get stretched so very thin.

Will I be alone in a nursing home someday?  
There's no way to know.    
But right now it feels even more important to hold space in my heart for the lonely people, to go seek them out, to bring a smile and some comfort and human connection wherever they are found.  

Could I get cancer like that young mom?  
There's no way to know.    
But just thinking about it makes it feel even more important to live gently and tenderly in the time I have, appreciating the health I have and holding tight the people I have. 

Will I live to be 90?  
There's no way to know.   
But today it feels even more important to remember that life is long (if we are lucky) and will be full of all sorts of times.  Busy times and crazy times and times full of little children on our laps, these times where we spend all day being needed and only dream of going somewhere alone. The days where we can barely buy enough food to feed them all will transition to the days where we are pushing the cart through the grocery store just picking up a little milk, a pack of cookies, a few eggs for just ourselves.  
There will be all kinds of times to be sure, and this wild and crazy and full and stretched one isn't forever.

Will I ever see my new friend again?  
There's no way to know.    
But there is no doubt in my mind that I was meant to run out of milk and bananas, so I could be there this morning, so I could meet this kind and brave man and learn from him.

But maybe I'll start going to Aldi on Tuesdays now.  Just in case.


  1. Beautiful. Love it. I was laughing at the "No Goodbyes in Aldi" and tearing up at the loneliness of the nursing home. Oh, I completely understood the desire to run to Greenfield right away! Thanks for sharing your heart!

  2. Nicely said Jen! I don't feel so crazy now for talking to everyone wherever I go, empathizing with older people and just wanting to go home with them to help them!
    I keep reminding people to count their blessings. My parents have passed on, my husband's mother is in a nursing home here and is 90, and his father is in assisted living in WA., just returned there from hospital after having pneumonia and broken ribs from a fall. He's almost 94! I have so many dear friends lately who are either recovering from chemo treatments or have succumbed to cancer, it's unbelievable! Thanks for sharing and thanks for modeling compassion for all people to your boys. Your family is so fortunate to learn from you!

    1. Cathy, thank you and you are so right! Counting our blessings, today and every day!

  3. As you can imagine, this hit home on several fronts for me right now, as I see many residents at my mom's rehab facility with no visitors (like Philip from Thanksgiving, who I took as my "date" today to the chili-cook-off....thought you would enjoy that!). A usual, I was absolutely captivated by your writing!

    1. OK, I LOVE That you took Philip as your date to the chili cook off!! This makes my day!! I know Mama K will scout out the lonely people and let's go befriend them all. Love you lots, Reen!!


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