I stand in the refrigerated section of Sam’s Club, holding a carton of eggs. I pop it open and inspect the eggs, checking for cracks. Just as I ascertain that there are none—that this is a flawless batch—I hear a voice behind me.
“Last time I was here I didn’t remember to do that,” the voice says. I turn and see a smiling, older gentleman a few feet away.
“... And then I got home and I had four that were broken,” he finishes.
I register what’s been said and laugh, even as my attention turns to the man beside the speaker. Both men have gray hair and slightly stooped bodies, but while the first speaker is simply friendly, the second man is … radiant. Radiant with joyful energy, with enthusiasm. “Hi!” he exclaims.
“Hi!” I reply, without hesitation. He’s beaming, and I can’t help but beam back. For a moment, we aren’t perfect strangers. We are long-lost friends, thrilled to reunite.
And at some point in this brief interaction it registers in my mind that this second man may have some form of intellectual or developmental disability. It’s only a guess, and I could certainly be wrong, but he reminds me so much of my friends at L’Arche. It’s not just in his mannerisms or expressions; it’s in his transparency of spirit. It’s the way he feels like family at first sight.
I remember what the first man said, and reply, “My mom always insisted that I check the eggs before putting them in the cart.”
My voice is light, but I feel a pang as I say the words. I miss my mother. It’s hard being so far from my family. These men remind me of my father and brother, who go shopping at their local warehouse club on Saturdays. I love that my dad takes Willie with him on this and other weekly errands; it’s an act of love and courage, especially because of Willie’s potential for meltdowns. And I can totally picture my dad having this same conversation with a fellow shopper as Willie stands beside him, and it makes me miss them both so much that I can hardly breathe.
“Oh, my wife did that too,” says the man, bringing me back to the present moment. “She said the same, but I forgot. She’s been gone … four years now.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” I say. I feel sympathy for this sweet man who has lost his wife. But the unexpected joy I feel in interacting with these two men mitigates the sadness and the bittersweet sense of missing my family.
I look from one man to the other. Our moment passes; we wave and wish each other a good day. I say, “So good to see you.” I feel silly for saying these words—after all, we’ve never met before—but the younger man smiles at me, radiant once more. Then they turn away, the older man leading the younger one to the produce section.
As they walk away, I see them more clearly. I’d thought of them as father and son, probably because they reminded me of my dad and brother on their weekly shopping trips. But as they walk away, I realize: they’re siblings. Of course. An older and younger brother, out shopping together.
As they move away, I wonder about their lives. I wonder if the older brother ever struggled with the idea of accompanying his younger brother through life. I wonder about their connection, if they live together full-time, if they’re the only ones left in their family.
It’s not reasonable, but I want to follow them and thank them. I want to walk beside them, in their presence, because the gentle way they have with one another gives me hope for my future.
And I think: Dear God, may Willie and I live to get gray hair and shop at Sam’s together someday.
Slowly, I start pushing my cart toward the checkout. And I realize that the best way to thank these siblings for being who they are is with my life, not my words.