Recently, a trip to my local farmer’s market was desperately needed. My refrigerator held little more than a cupful of milk and some questionable leftovers. I was longing for an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, crusty French bread and some good inexpensive bottles of wine. Grabbing my “green” grocery bags and a warm jacket (it’s freezing in there!) I entered the huge space slowly pushing my cart as to take in the entire experience. And it is definitely an experience you want to savor.
It was unusual for me to go on a Saturday because the place is jammed, and this Saturday was no exception. Even the wide aisles were too crowded to maneuver a cart, so I parked it nearby and made my way, easing into the myriads of people handpicking green beans one by one to take my turn. It’s an art to do so without offending anyone or getting in someone’s way. Remarking about how fresh things looked began a conversation and I was then welcomed into the fray. Most of the customers were friendly enough and they, too, were taking their time, enjoying the nearly spiritual experience of choosing some of the bounty God had given us. The bright colors of peppers, tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, blueberries and hundreds of other items was a lovely feast for the eyes. I marveled at the strangely shaped vegetables and noticed people of every race and culture carefully selecting foods that I had never seen before and would have no idea how to prepare. But their faces were bright as they must have been thinking about their native homes and the food they had shared with their families. I stuck with my normal fare but longed to know and taste so many different things.
My favorite section is the bread area. Several long aisles are needed to accommodate every kind of bread you could imagine. It’s all made with organic ingredients and before I knew it I had loaded up on dinner rolls, Italian bread, rye bread, whole wheat bread and raspberry croissants. I wondered if I needed all of that but what in the world would I put back on the shelf? Certainly not the croissants and John loves rye bread. I could always freeze it, I thought.
My hour long trip was coming to an end. It would be a shame to hurry this kind of errand. But the best part was yet to come. There must have been at least 25 cashiers ready to check people out and they were all busy. I tried to eye the shortest line and made my way to a young man. You must know that the cashiers, and actually all the workers there, are not Americans. They wear name tags that also have their native language on them. Very rarely do I see “English” although most of the workers can speak a few words.
The man greeted me with a warm smile and then I noticed something unusual. Although the market was crazy busy and the lines to check out were long, he moved in a deliberate manner, taking extra time to ring up my order. As he bagged my delicious produce he did so with great care. I watched as he practically cradled each piece of fruit, how he gently picked up the bread and carefully placed it in my bag. His movements were loving and caring. Could it be that perhaps food was scarce where he came from and he realized that everything he handled was a gift from God, something to be valued and respected? There were no words exchanged between us except my heartfelt “Thank you” as I left. But all the way home I thought about him. I thought about how I had felt a sense of healing from this man. What was it about him? I know it sounds crazy but those few moments spent with this stranger deeply touched me. And I realized it was his beautiful, gentle nature that struck me to my core.
Gentleness. What an unusual gift that is, especially in these days! How often do we encounter it, in our homes, in our workplace, in our relationships? I have meditated on that encounter at the market many times. If in those few moments I experienced a sense of peace and healing with this gentle man, do I not feel a responsibility to become more like him so that others may also be healed though an encounter with me? Do I handle all the gifts that God has given me with the spirit of gentleness? It may sound strange but am I able to touch fruit and bread with a sense of wonder? More importantly, do I touch others with that same love and care and gentleness?