I was at the drug store yesterday, in line for a prescription, and a woman in a purple jacket melted down…. just… went to pieces right there in the prescription line.
“I can’t DO THIS ANYMORE!”
She screamed at the stunned cashier, who blinked quickly while everyone stood there staring, watching Purple Jacket Lady hurtle her backpack into a shelf full of laxatives and antihistamines.
“I can’t wait for OVER AN HOUR HERE ANYMORE!”
She screamed guttural and clawed at her blotching cheeks.
“I AM NOT GOING TO DO THIS! I AM NOT GOING TO DO THIS WITH YOU PEOPLE ANYMORE!”
It was an explosively loud scene – the flying plastic bottles bouncing and clacking across the concrete floor, then the groans and sobs of the woman, now heaped into a howling purple orb on the waiting bench.
I know how she feels, I thought, looking at the other stunned and wide-eyed patrons. We all do.
And a silence hushed over the entire place, like the moment before an earthquake, a creepy deadness present in the usually-bustling drugstore, as though someone pushed the pause button. Cashiers and customers and pharmacy technicians all frozen in place, deer-in-headlights style, looking back and forth at one another in a telepathic plea for what exactly we were supposed to do in a situation like this.
There is no protocol for dealing with madness, be it our own or that of a stranger in a purple jacket, but in a time like this, I usually just pray like hell.
A few silent seconds passed until a phone rang and the cashier called, “Next!” and everyone shuffled their feet back to their original positions, forgetting… ignoring the woman still heaped in a pile of sobs and lunacy.
Go to her. Notice her. Do something.
My chest fluttered and at once, I was completely appalled at how drastically she was being ignored, this woman, so obviously in need of some compassion in her breakdown moment and also paralyzed by the normalcy with which we all carried about our business, the risk of side-stepping the unknown and locking eyes with injustice, even when the kids are in the car and this wasn’t really part of the plan, today.
And I’d like to tell you that I’m the kind of woman who scurried over to her and put my arms around her and laid hands on her in prayer right there on the drugstore bench, like Beth Moore telling the story of asking for the privilege to brush an old man’s hair, a complete stranger, on an airport layover.
But the truth is, I’m really the kind of woman who wonders if she’d take a swing at me or curse at me or flip out even more and shank me with the ballpoint pen she was fingering between her gloves. I’m the kind of woman who figured she’d probably just want to be left alone and the security guy was on his way over and really I probably should just get back to my kids since I’d promised them I’d only take a second. So I walked up to the counter and whispered my name and carried away my bottle of pills to my safe car with my safe, waiting children and shook the whole ordeal off my shoulders before Purple Jacket Lady had even moved from her spot on the waiting bench.
And I realize that the love of Christ is more than bookmarks and wall hangings. It’s easy to write a blog post or mutter a phrase about loving the least of these, but I’m humbled by the depth at which I fail at this, every day. By how hard it is, sometimes, to love the way we’re called to.
Every day I have an opportunity to love. To speak kindly about those I disagree with or act mercifully toward those with whom I’m frustrated. I can choose to love above the fear of the unknown, and fear not what people think or do when I am acting faithfully, when my heart moves my feet and not just my thoughts.
I don’t know if I should have said something to Purple Jacket Lady. I don’t know, yet, how to love beyond myself enough to really change anything in this big, hurting world. But I guess the first step of wisdom is knowing what you don’t know, and the first step of strength is knowing where you’re weak and I am broken to my knees for the grace to fully, deeply receive love like this as often and completely as possible so that it can overfill and spill all out and the love can trump anxiety and busyness, and the love can trump the invisible barriers of drugstore benches, addiction, poverty, hate, and selfishness.
I know lady. I can’t do this anymore, either, I think to myself, at home, on my couch, in slippers with pizza and central heat and all sorts of other extravagant comforts, wondering why I didn’t act, wondering how many times I’ve missed the opportunity to show the love I know and so often don’t share. What is love if its only half-warm, anyway?
I’m sorry, Purple Jacket Lady, that I failed to love like I should have. I’m sorry that there were other Christians standing around, doing the same….judging and snickering instead of giving of the fountain of love with which we’ve been equipped. And I’m sorry Homeless Overpass Guy and Tired Waitress and Gay Bashing Preacher and Cheery Telemarketer and My Own Sweet Husband and Children for my failure in loving you wholly and rightly, too…the only thing that really matters to the One I claim to follow. And I’m sorry, Jesus, for not understanding grace enough to ever really let it sink in enough to move my feet toward the people in front of me.
What opportunities have you missed to share the love you’ve been given?