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How a Stranger in Aisle 5 Brightened Our Holiday as a Special Needs Family

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There I was, crying in aisle 5. Tears streaming down my face in the grocery store as the teenaged clerk, confused, kept doing his job as fast as he could, avoiding eye contact. The store was packed. It was a Saturday, a few weeks before Christmas and I was the lady losing it in front of all these people.

Let me explain.

My 15-year-old daughter Emma does not walk independently. She is nonverbal, but that does not mean she cannot talk, and when she vocalizes, it can be loud. I am aware that people notice our family. I try not to let it get to me, but I am a mom and most times, the looks and the stares hurt.

Still, it is all about Emma. She likes to get out. So we take her to stores. It is really a two-fer for us. We get groceries. She practices walking and picking out items to put in the cart. It is a lot of work, but so worth it.

Emma, my husband and I were going through the store. We took turns. One pushing the carts, one walking Emma. We had two full carts, a wheelchair and our child with special needs walking with us. People were noticing. I did not care. We were having fun.

An hour later, we were finally done. Emma was smiling from ear to ear, I suspect because the nice guy at the meat counter gave her slices of cheese to make her experience much better. Checking out with two overflowing carts takes a while; there was a person in front of me and a few behind me. The process was not going as fast as I think everyone, including me, wanted it to.

And then it happened.

The young man checking us out held up $40. He said some lady in pink gave it to him to help pay for our groceries. How did I miss this? When did she do this? Was she a ninja of some sort? I had a million questions, which held the line up even more. Who was this woman? What did she look like? Why did she choose our family? And where did she go? This one act of kindness threw me for a loop. My lip started to quiver; my eyes were tearing up. As I kept putting my groceries on the conveyor belt, I wondered why this mystery lady chose us.

As I was paying the bill that was $40 cheaper because of this anonymous angel, the clerk looked up and said hey, that’s her. She was two aisles over, a lady in pink. How could I get to her? I was paying the bill. I was stuck between two carts and I still had Emma. I did not care. I pushed past, made sure my hubby had Emma and ran to her. I grabbed her. I hugged her. I was crying. I was not thinking, just acting. I kissed this stranger on the cheek, saying over and over, thank you.

She hugged back. I could tell she wanted to remain anonymous, but many people in the store had witnessed her good deed. She told me she was watching me and could tell I was a great person and an even better mom. She told me life can be hard. She hoped this helped a bit.

It did help, financially and emotionally. I had a breakdown in a packed, public place but I felt no shame. Maybe this breakdown was a breakthrough for our family. I don’t know if it was the time of the year, just weeks before Christmas, and I don’t care. This split-second decision by a total stranger made me stronger, made me hopeful and gave me the strength to keep on going.

I know the lady in pink did not pity me or my child. I believe she saw us, actually saw us as just another family trying to make it. Her random act of kindness will be seared into my memory for life. She has no idea what a big deal it was for me. People are good. People want to help. Everyone was staring at us — and they were smiling.

This random act of kindness mattered. It touched me at my very core. This should be talked about and celebrated. I will make sure I do this for someone else. The feeling is amazing. Breakdown or breakthrough? I had both, and it felt wonderful.

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Originally published: December 21, 2016
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