It took me a split second to process what was happening when he fell on top of me; though my feet were planted in the check-out line at Walgreens, I was a thousand miles away, agitated and completely out of sorts.
I‘m convinced satan delights in the chaos and conflict that so often accompanies a family getting ready for church. Left socks and right shoes mysteriously go missing, an empty milk carton replaces the “full” one from last night, the gas gauge salutes the “E”.
And on a Sunday morning a few weeks before Christmas, my husband and I had an argument, the kind where no one and everyone is right. The ride to church seemed twice as long as smoldering silence displaced the miles.
Worship was good, living water extinguishing fire, but residual embers flickered on the way home. At least softening conversation replaced the previous ride’s silence.
We had attended the early service because we were hosting a dozen students for dinner that evening. Living less than an hour from my daughter’s college, we thought a home-cooked meal for her and her hallmates would be the perfect exam week kick-off.
The menu was simple, two different soups, cornbread, salad and my oft begged for White Wine Cake; since everything was homemade, it would take a while. We had picked up a Christmas tree the day before, and though decorating it and the rest of our home usually takes me a few days, I wanted it pretty for the girls. On top of all this, having just returned from Germany, I was still jetlagging.
I had a lot to do.
We ended up three strands short of lighting our Christmas tree; when I had pulled out last years’ lights, ten strands didn’t work or I could have easily finished the night before. To make efficient use of time, after church we decided to stop at Walmart on the way home; no matter how much I detest going there, no one does one-stop shopping better and as inexpensively.
To my dismay and duress, they were completely out of white lights. Three weeks before Christmas, and not a single strand of plain white lights at Walmart?! I couldn’t believe it; it would mean another stop elsewhere.
Grumbling and inconvenienced, I completed our shopping. Time was ticking. Mentally prioritizing what was realistic to accomplish with the remainder of time I had until the girls arrived, I begrudgingly pushed decorating to the end of my list.
Still, since it was right across the street, we decided to stop at Walgreens to pick up lights there.
My husband and son waited in the car while I ran inside. Right away I found 100-count white lights, furious they weren’t on sale. I’ve never paid five dollars for lights! I picked up three boxes and stormed to check out.
Thankfully, the line was short, three people including me. Apparently the lady at the front had a morning like mine, raving and ranting to that poor cashier about “bait and switch” and “the flyer is very deceptive” and “I just don’t think that’s right to do that to your customers” when Customer #2 in line decided to cut things short.
Without a sound, he passed out on top of me, my body breaking his descent to the floor.
We froze as time stopped.
When my brain caught up two seconds later I squatted low, my face close to his. His head turns toward mine and I wonder Alcohol? but his eyes wide and clear tell me no, and I’m ashamed for thinking it first. A single tear punctuated the outside corners of each eye. I noticed that.
“Sir, can you tell me your name?” Lord, Lord, what do I say or do next?
“Oscar Hendley,” his soft reply.*
I grasped his wrist so he could feel life and I could feel his, and though I don’t recall ever feeling hot and clammy skin before, I sensed it immediately.
The cashier squalked into the telephone, “Someone call 9-1-1! We have a customer who’s passed out!” and it sounds far away though she’s two feet from me.
“Mr. Hendley, do you know where you are?” and he whispers “The drugstore.” There’s an odd reel of Marcus Welby and ER running through my mind, and subconsciously I’m rolodexing for something more current. First aid classes, life saving training, CPR…anything. Wisdom, Lord, peace….”love him with words” is what I hear, so I do.
I keep wanting to loosen his non-existent tie. He’s dressed neatly – tan sweater, brown pants, loafers – and I ask him if he’d like me to help him remove his black leather jacket. His skin is hot but he shakes his head no.
“How many fingers am I holding up?” Five, he says.
“Can you tell me your birthday?” May 28th.
“Which one did you celebrate this year?” I want him to think. “I’m 71.”
“Well, I wouldn’t have guessed that, Mr. Hendley, are you sure you’re telling the truth?” and that curls his lips but only a little.
The pharmacist is by my side now and she asks if he has a Med-alert bracelet on. I feel stupid for not already checking his other wrist (but he doesn’t).
He’s got a bag of prescriptions in his right hand still holding tight, no interest in sitting up. He tells me this has happened a time or two and that he was actually going to the doctor today. I wonder if he’s confused because it’s Sunday, but I don’t question him further.
The pharmacist has returned with her blood pressure cuff and I hear sirens coming closer. A police officer walks in.
I back away as they pull him to a chair. I recount to the officer everything Mr. Hendley told me and he scribbles as fast as I’m speaking.
There’s nothing left to do but pay for my lights.
The cashier is kind to me.
“Are you a nurse?” she wants to know. No ma’am.
“Are you a teacher?” she asks with an ignited curiosity. I notice that, too. “No, ma’am, I’m not a teacher.”
“WELL, HOW WERE YOU SO CALM? HOW DID YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO?” and though I didn’t feel like I did anything special, I shrugged and replied with the truth of what moved my feet to action, why I wanted this grandfatherly gentleman to feel love and compassion if he was frightened or alone.
“I’m a mom.”
It was only later that it would occur to me that my Divine Appointment with Mr. Hendley was a gift. My children are older now and they don’t need me in the ways they did when they were little; Christmastime is one of those seasons where it is most obvious, and though I love the ages they are now, I find myself looking over my shoulder toward yesteryear.
And, then Mr. Hendley comes along and reminds me that I’ll never stop being a mother, and I wondered…Could I possibly have been showing kindness to an angel?!
I wish could thank him.
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