She said her name was Teresa. She wore red slacks and had dark hair and spoke with a slight accent. She was soft and shy with a strand of loneliness woven about her – in her voice and encircling her movements.
She had only a few items in her grocery basket as she walked up and got in line behind me, so I invited her to go ahead. She was terribly pleased that I’d afforded her this small kindness, this quiet recognition. She thanked me – poignantly, too much, too many times.
She was about my height, my physical size, so our eyes and faces met as we waited, and we spoke to each other a couple of times about small and insignificant things. We smiled back and forth. She talked about the kindness of strangers, thanking me yet again.
And then she pointed to the two bags of Hershey’s kisses I had put up on the checkout counter after her items were starting to move through. She said she liked chocolate, too – but only the dark kind. I agreed, and told her these were the dark kind and very good – and I was quite addicted to them. And we smiled at each other over our shared bond of love for sweet, dark, chocolate.
As Teresa finished her transaction at the checkout, mine also went through, and so I grabbed one of my bags of chocolate kisses and tucked it into her sack. We both laughed. And, again, she thanked me over and over.
Then, just as she was leaving, she turned and asked if she could have my phone number. But all I could think was that she would just want to thank me some more. And that I didn’t have anything to write the number down on or with. And so she left with that sweet, not-quite-sad smile. And I felt her aloneness as it trailed along behind her like a shard of ribbon.
Perhaps it’s because this is the Easter season – one of the most meaningful for my faith – filled with lessons and requisites about taking care of one another, honoring one another. Or perhaps it’s because Easter is also one of those seasons when chocolate seems to abound wherever we go, all dressed up in its Easter clothes, in bright wrappers and wicker baskets and glass bowls. But I cannot seem to forget about Teresa and my missed opportunity for responding to her quiet request for friendship and hospitality from me.
Most faiths – most cultures – since the very beginning of our being human – profess the significance of hospitality and kindness, of noticing each other, of listening to each other, of respecting and valuing the vulnerability within each of us. Perhaps that’s why my heart keeps turning back to that unimportant day in the grocery store. And to the importance of Teresa.
I suspect I will regret for a very long time not giving Teresa my phone number that day. It was, after all, such a small thing. Perhaps we would have met for lunch or shared some tea … and chocolate, of course. And we could have found each other terribly fun and interesting to know.
During this faith-filled season of hope, I hope for all of us that we always have the grace to accept the invitations to exchange phone numbers with someone new. I hope we have the courage to always smile into another’s loneliness, and hug their hearts, and just be kind. I hope we have the generosity to never let a chance for hospitality pass us by. And that we have this wisdom in all seasons, throughout every year.
Perhaps I will meet her again – Teresa wearing red slacks and a not-quite-sad smile. And we will have tea and share chocolates, and I will say thank you.