Smiles From Strangers.

ImageI got up early this morning to walk to the indoor Farmer’s Market at Shaker Square, stopping at the bank along the way.  I was proud that I got up early while it was so cold and I would normally have second thoughts.  I got up early, I drank some tea, I read, I played with my cats, and then I got dressed in a dress and even wore lipstick and a hat.  I walked to the market with my satchel from Willi’s Ski House, withdrew cash, and passed inside the market with my list scribbled on the back of a Starbucks ad.

My motivation this fine morning?  Picking up ingredients from local, organic, animal-friendly vendors to cook another fantastic meal on Monday with Jeff.  He’s been working hard, long hours in the cold.  I feel for him, and I’m also thankful that he chooses to spend so much of his limited free time with me.  He’s always texting me and calling me with positive words, even when he is working or busy, and I want to do him favors while I can (not to mention shamelessly show off my ability to cook anything from scratch).  I rounded up ingredients, bought fair-trade coffee at Dewey’s, and walked home to reorganize my produce into tin foil and the proper crisper drawers. And, yes, this vegetarian even bought grass-fed meat to cook for the meal.

While I was emptying my half-peck of apples into the crisper, I started thinking about all the people I saw today.

First, at the bank, an older, white gentleman came in as I finished at the ATM.  As I walked out, a younger, black man came into the room.  The older man was still fumbling with his wallet and insisted for the younger man to go first.  Not only was it strikingly kind, but I realized that would never have happened between most strangers where I’m from.  I’ve been realizing how much more colorblind people in Cleveland are than in my rural hometown in Pennsylvania.

Second, I thought about the first meat vendor I spoke with who didn’t have pork or ham.  We chatted like old friends and he pointed me directly to another vendor and listed all of the others who sell meat.  I told him I’d keep him in mind if I ever need beef or chicken.

Third, I revisited the Woolf Farm vendors for their apples.  The old gentlemen who sell the pecks are sometimes so brittle that I want to help them load their crates.  Yet, they’re always the first to bend over to pick up anything that is dropped, they always help lift paper bags into sacks, and they always have a friendly, crinkly smile like you buying their apples was the kindest thing you could have possibly done for them.

Fourth, as I walked to the other room of vendors, I took a moment to step back and see how many people had walked (and some driven) from all around town to stuff their eco-friendly bags with organic, fresh, higher-than-the-grocer’s-priced goods.  They were all out here despite the 14F-degree morning.  Many of them had children in tow, all sporting home-knit hats or classy bowlers.  I had this sudden good feeling, like these are the kind of people who are going to keep the world good.  These are the kind who care and who keep caring and who get up, bring their family, help out friends they don’t know…

Fifth, I finally found the vendors I needed for my meat.  I chatted with the father and son about how a vegetarian has no idea which meats she needs, but she (I) will surely make it taste alright anyway.  They pointed me in the right direction based on the recipe I said I was making.  The girl beside me gasped and said that not only did it sound good but – And pardon me for getting in the middle and overhearing, but my what a thing you’re doing to be cooking meat for someone!  That’s really cool! – and I thought, maybe it is?  Not for a second did I dread doing it; it only seems proper to cook an ordinary meal and not subject my guests to my eating habits.  Well, I subject them a bit.  I am after all buying local, organ, grassfed – because that’s the kind I support.

Sixth, I walked into Dewey’s to get my fair-trade coffee.  I was impressed by the numbers of people crowded along the tables, many from the market, all barring against the cold in home-knits and pea coats and smiles, appreciating the local, more expensive things.  It was a well-mixed crowd too.  I even recognized a student who used to come into the library while I was on Welcome Desk shift.  I’ve seen him in there before.  He is such an outlier and cannot blend in at all with society; I’m not sure if he actually has a problem, or if he doesn’t realize that people don’t really care about his magic cards and his ability to rule fairies, the way-too-loud conversation he was holding in the middle of the room one morning at 7am.  But they all know his name.  They all ask him questions to relieve the last person and pass him around, making him feel like he has a home.  I’m not sure what the poor kid does with his life; he has got to be older than I am.  But there he was today, on his laptop in the corner, surrounded by throngs of people who I know would defend him.

Seventh – this is the moment that stuck with me the most and made me recall the others.  It was something so simple.  I was walking out of the coffee shop and pulling out my earbuds when I noticed a small dog tied to the bench, shivering.  No, I’m not a bleeding heart over animals left outside.  We keep our dogs outside all of the time and they much prefer it.  I just felt bad because he looked distraught and lonely.  So, I walked over to him, introduced myself, and kneeled down to pet him.  At first, he cowered, but I reached and scratched and he came closer.  Soon, his little tail was wagging rapidly and his breath was panting out steam.  When he looked warmer, I started to pull away and walk back.  I looked up just in time to notice a man, having held doors for many people, walk briskly past us, look back, observe the moment, and bear an enormous smile that he then proceeded to carry into the Farmer’s Market.

All of those smiles – whether from the face or the heart – were affecting people right, left, and sideways today.  It was good to see some hope left in what has been feeling like such a drab, dreary, dark world.

So thank you, man with the smile, and you’re welcome to the person who caught it next.

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