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Tending to Needs

By Cora Ann Metz


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It was 8:15. As usual, I was running late for work. In spite of this, I stopped at a neighborhood convenience store to get some juice and snacks for work. Usually, when I am running late, I don’t make stops like this, but I felt compelled to visit the store that morning. Later, I realized that this detour touched my life in more ways than one.


After parking and heading towards the entrance, I noticed an elderly couple in their mid-80’s standing outside the door. They seemed oddly out of place just standing there by themselves at this time of the morning, but I got the impression that both were waiting for something or someone to pick them up.  I entered the store and didn’t give the old couple a second thought.


As I was leaving, the old woman hobbled up and stuck out her cane to stop me. As she spoke to me in German, I became a bit annoyed, not so much that her interruption would make me even more late, but because my grasp of German was not good enough to understand her. But I knew she needed something from me. I could have easily feigned ignorance and walked away, but I thought, ‘one day, this could be me asking a stranger for help.’ To this day, I am not sure why she stopped me since others had visited the store and left before me. Noticing confusion on my face and a shoulder shrug to indicate my incomprehension, she pointed to my car with her cane. That is when I understood that she needed a ride. 


After she turned and spoke briefly to the old man to bid him goodbye, I helped her over to my car and into the front passenger seat. I waited as she fumbled for the seat belt to strap herself safely in. As I drove off, she started speaking to me as if I understood her German perfectly. I didn’t, and gave her no indication of my shortcoming. The most I could make out initially was that she wanted to go to the ‘sparkasse,’ the name for a local credit union. 


The Hochspeyer Sparkasse was a short distance in the opposite direction from where I worked, but I was already late and I thought a few more minutes would not make a difference. Besides, I tend to work late into the evening to make up my time.


Whenever I experience difficulty trying to converse in German, I always break out my ‘save-face’ question, Sprechen Sie ein bisschen Englisch? “Do you speak a little English?” This question usually encouraged most Germans I have encountered to use some English no matter the level of their ability. Coupled with my passable ability to speak some German, I would manage to get through a conversation. But this query would be of no use, since I just knew that this little old lady spoke no English. 


As she continued talking to me like an old friend, I managed to pick up and understand bits and pieces of what she was saying. In a delicate, scratchy voice filled with fondness, she spoke of “…eine Schwarze Dame aus Berlize,” (...a Black lady from Berlize.) “Sie war sehr schoen und sehr, sehr nett,”.  (She was very beautiful and very, very nice.)


My own vanity led me to believe that she was comparing me to a beautiful, dark-skinned woman who had left a lasting impression by touching her life in a positive way. That much I understood perfectly. While keeping a careful eye on the road, I glanced briefly at the little old lady, who smiled and gestured with one frail hand for emphasis as she continued to share her memories of this special friend from Berlize. I also nodded and smiled to acknowledge her conversation.


Arriving at the sparkasse’s side entrance, I drove around the corner and stopped in front to let her off. I started to unbuckle my seat belt to help her out, but she gently touched my arm for me to stay put and that she could get out on her own. After unbuckling the seat belt, she opened the car door. Straining but taking her time, she positioned her cane securely on the ground to lift herself up to a standing position. I smiled and felt proud of her accomplishing that simple movement on her own in spite of her inevitable age-related disabilities. 


Once out and standing firmly, she tucked her cane underneath one arm in order to free both hands to open her purse. She offered me a few Euros for my trouble. Naturally, I politely declined but her generosity touched me for something, which hadn’t cost me a cent. She smiled at me and offered, “Auf wiedersehen” before gently closing my car door. 


I waited as she slowly mounted the first step with a bit of difficulty. She stopped on the first step, turned and waved at me, which I took as my signal that she would be all right making it to the top. I waved back and finally drove off.


As for the old man, I had to pass the same store to get to work. As I did, I looked over at the store’s front entrance and noticed that he was gone. I hope that someone took care of his needs too.


I drove to work deep in thought about my chance encounter with the old woman. I imagined that should I step into that little old woman’s shoes one day, I hope that someone will take the time to tend to my needs too. I believe that God puts angels in our paths to test our compassion as we journey through this life. I also believe that we all face the option to commit that ‘random act of kindness.’ Undeniably, I felt guilty as charged for the rest of the day.


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