strange encounter with man in store

A couple of days ago, while I was browsing in one of my favorite stores, I noticed a man with uncombed white hair shopping in the home decor section. Looking to be in his mid-60s, he was dressed in such frumpy looking ill-fitted clothes–quilted fabric Bermuda shorts with a fussily-printed baggy shirt–that it was impossible not to notice him.  He was squatting and looking at different types of containers. I paused then, noticing that the one he was looking at was exactly like one I’d purchased on Monday at 40% off at a different store.

As he made his decision and stood up clutching one in his hand, it occurred to me the price I’d bought it for might be a better price, so I casually inquired, “what was the price on that box?” not out of nosiness but thinking I might save him a few dollars. A frown crossed his face momentarily and he started to walk off saying, “I don’t know. Why don’t you get down there and look for yourself?”

I frequently make casual but friendly remarks to people when I’m out shopping. Most of the time they’re friendly back, and I like to imagine that both of us have enjoyed those few moments connecting to anothers, even though we’re strangers. His remark pierced me like an arrow. I couldn’t resist adding with just a little consternation in my own voice,  I was just thinking I might save you a few dollars. He paused then to turn towards me.

“Where?” he said. Then, apparently in a hurry and no need to care about saving money, he turned abruptly and said a few words I couldn’t quite make out. The last words did register, however, loud and clear.

“My cat died!” he had said, glancing down at the chest. Then he was gone.

His cat died? I was confused. What did that have to do with the price of tea in China? I wondered, and throughout the day that scene and those words, my cat died, kept repeating themselves to me. I tried but couldn’t quite forgive him and forget until it finally hit me what he was buying that chest for, and why he hadn’t bothered to look at the price first as I’d assumed he had. Who among us worries at a such critical time, like a pet’s death, what something costs. Especially when it’s a coffin in which to bury a beloved friend?

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7 thoughts on “strange encounter with man in store

  1. That reminds me of an anecdote often used regarding perspective: A man boards a subway train with three unruly children who bother all the other passengers with their running, screaming, and fighting. Finally a frustrated passenger angrily asks the father why he is not disciplining his children. He answers, “I’m sorry.I’m a bit distracted. We just came from the hospital where their mother died and I’m trying to think about how I am going to tell them.”

    Never be judgmental. You may not understand the whole story.

    • I try to remember that important fact every time I see and react to a news story like the one yesterday–about the man in Georgia who slapped the two-year-old child because it wouldn’t stop crying. Maybe we’ll find out there’s another side of the story. I sure hope there’s some sort of explanation, even if it won’t wash.

  2. My mom, and her mom, always said don’t judge until you have walked a mile in the other person’s moccasins. It’s a really hard creed to live by, and I am not usually successful, but there have been many times I have been so incredibly thankful that I have done it.

  3. There are moments when people want just to be left alone to be with their grief and such interruptions to their private space at that time can trigger such unusual behaviour. I think that you did right and your reaction too is quite normal under the circumstances.

  4. We cannot force people to listen or talk to us. As Michelle mentioned, until we have walked in the other persons shoes and felt the nails, we are in no position to judge.

    • Quite right, Michelle and Grannymar. And I didn’t expect him to talk to me. Neither do I expect other people to respond if I remark. On the oft chance that they do, it makes me feel good, but I hope I didn’t give the impression I go around on shopping excursions chatting up everyone. I’m actually quite reserved and most of the comments I might make aloud that might initiate a conversation are done at myself. What I actually felt like doing in this strange encounter was to run after the man and say I’m sorry and give him a big hug. I’ve lost lots of cats and dogs over the years, I know it makes you feel like hell. But you can’t do that either.Wouldn’t it be nice if people could open up and let others know they need a little emotional support though?

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