A couple of years ago in December, my daughter and I stood in a line 20 people deep at Target on a Friday night. We had forgotten that our usual routine of grabbing necessities would be overshadowed by crowds completing last minute holiday shopping.
No matter for me. Waiting in line often affords me the opportunity to people watch, and on this particular night, I noticed the young mother ahead of us who was unloading her cart. On her hip, she balanced an infant, and in the buggy, a toddler perched in the front seat. Both children were tired and fussy, and it was clear this mama was feeling pretty much the same way. She reminded me of the women I had served in my ministry a few years before–women who struggled to escape poverty in an economic and societal system that only encouraged it.
As she placed items carefully on the conveyor belt, I noticed that her purchases were all basic necessities–food, diapers, and formula. There were no gift bags or toys or ribbons–nothing that indicated that she was preparing to celebrate the holiday season.
Behind her, I noticed the woman standing between us. She was older and well-dressed, most likely from one of the surrounding neighborhoods that celebrated this time of year with parties and lights and merriment. On her arm, she had a basket with only a few items. It would have been easy for her to grow impatient, thinking about shorter lines or faster customers, but she waited calmly as the young mom continued to unload.
After the cart had been emptied, the young woman began pulling various items out of her wallet. A few coupons, a couple of gift cards, an EBT card, and some spare change. When all was added up, she still came up short. My heart broke. What was she going to sacrifice in order to make ends meet?
And then, out of the corner of my eye, there it was.
The Spirit of the season.
The woman who was next in line discreetly took her hand and slid it across the counter to the checkout woman. She did it with such humility that you would have had to have been paying attention to notice her kindness.
The young mother turned with tears in her eyes and quietly thanked the woman. In that moment, age nor economics, not even poverty, mattered. Love, compassion, and generosity prevailed.
In that moment, the Spirit of the season was palpable.