My Greatest Influence

July 6, 2008
By
Sundays, I walk to the supermarket. Mother hands me the grocery list and puts money in my pocket, hoping it wil be enough. She's had a hard day, and I've had a hard week. Nothing out of the ordinary happens on my trip to the store. I grab the bread, some milk, and other things on the list. As it turn to head out, I see it, all pinks and yellows. It looks gorgeous in the window, and I'm sure if I were to try it on it would be a perfect fit. I smile for a moment and turn away, bitter that I could never own such a dress as that. Instead, I grab the last item and check out.
Outside, traffic zooms by, an artificial breeze across my face. The sun beats down, making me sweat. These paper sacks in my arms are not the easiest things to carry. Yet, even with all these distractions I cannot stop thinking about that pretty sundress in the window of the market. It is not fair that I can never have what I want. I work so hard to help my family and yet I get nothing in return, just another grocery list or errand to do.
In my anger, I fail to realize the tear that had been growing along the bottom of one of the sacks. Its contents spill out eveywhere so that I must drop everything else just to chase after the soup cans and apples rolling across the sidewalk. Suddenly, I see a pair of hands that do not belong to me. They hold out to me a can of green beans. I follow them up the forearms, from the shoulders, and to the face of this stranger. His skin is tanned and wrinkled from so many years in the sun. His clothes are mismatched, borrowed or stolen. But his eyes are soft and kind.
I pause in silence, only able to stare at him. "Huh... thanks," I say, coming to my senses, and I take the can from him. No other words are spoken as he continues to help me recover my purchases and get back on my feet. There is an awkward silence between us. Not knowing what else to say in this sort of situation, I tell him "thank you" one more time and be on my way because I have many other chores to finish. Suddenly, he speaks for the first time, and all he says is "Have a good day, ma'am." And then he gives me the biggest, most gap-toothed smile I have ever seen. Right then, he looks years younger - and I feel a fool.
Look at me, feeling sorry for myself because I do not get what I want! Do I not think others are in the same boat, or worse? I am but one person out of the billions that exist on this earth, so who am I to think that I deserve more than I already have?
To say that I strive to emulate a single person would be to say that the universe consists solely of the eight planets in our solar system. The human character is much more complex than that. Just as the universe is shaped by many different outside sorces, so, too, have I been influence by many familiar and unfamiliar faces.
It is not a matter or who, but what, has been the greatest influence in my life. I do not wish to be that homeless man on the street, for he has taught me with one genuine smile that my life is enough, and that there are worse things out there than not having a pink and yellow sundress. But it is his selfless character that continues to mold me.
My mother will hand me the grocery list today. I will make the same journey to the supermarket, and most likely, I will get the same items as last time. And I will probably see something I want but cannot get. But before I start to feel sorry for myself I will remember the kind stranger with the gap-toothed grin, I'll grab the last item, and check out.





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