By MITCH TRAPHAGEN
I saw him just after I turned into the Walmart parking lot from Highway 301. He was an old man, moving very slowly. As I pulled into the parking lot, I passed him and noticed he was pushing a shopping cart. He had yet to reach the store. I parked out in the hinterland, got out of my car, went into the store and began shopping. I decided that I needed a cart so walked back to the entrance. The man had finally just made it into the store. He pushed the cart over to where the other carts stood waiting and then slowly made his way back out to the parking lot. No less than 15 minutes had passed since I first saw him.
I was amazed. It had taken so much effort on his part — and all he did was return a shopping cart. Clearly, he felt it was the right thing to do. He didn’t want to leave something out for someone else to take care of. I, along with most of my generation, could learn a lot from that man, I think. He worked hard for something that he believed in — there was no gain for him to take that much time, spend that much effort to return that cart. He selflessly did the right thing.
That man is one of the many reasons I truly love living here. He is here — and there are many others like him.
I know full well that I often see life through rose-colored glasses. Believe it or not, I do make occasional efforts to somewhat shield readers from that in my writing. I know that life isn’t all puppies and rainbows. I remember once many years ago I was driving to an event in Sun City Center. I was a little late and was cruising the parking lot for a space. Going from one lane to the next, I pulled in front of someone on the same quest as mine. It wasn’t a dangerous situation; but it was certainly rude on my part. After parking, I began to walk over to the other man’s car to apologize for cutting him off. I didn’t even get the words out before he told me to do something anatomically impossible to myself. That was a bit of a surprise — but it is part of life. Not everyone is a saint. I’m certainly not.
But I do have a preference for seeing the first person — the man with the shopping cart — over seeing the second — the man with the really foul mouth and lightening-fast temper. I pretty much admire anyone who chooses to swim against the tide for something they believe in. I admire those who take the path of the heart over the path of convenience. I admire men and women who show me the good path by example rather than through shouting. There are so many of these men and women and it seems today they are ignored over those who shout.
It feels like everything is spread so thin and people are so quick to anger these days. I’m not a particularly meek driver (I drive a Porsche, for crying out loud) but I’ve been honked at more in the past month than I have in the past many years. The anger is visible by just watching a few minutes of the evening news. Threats of violence, cloaked or not-so-cloaked, are the new avant-garde. Yelling, being rude, being a total jerk is cool. Flip on CNN — you won’t have to wait long to see it for yourself.
Or maybe not it’s not so cool. Maybe the loud and obnoxious just make for good press. As the Eagles once sang, “Put the weirdo on the set, we need dirty laundry.” Obviously, you are not going to see a headline, “Man Spends 30 Minutes of His Life Just to Return a Shopping Cart!” And nope, no film at 11, either.
I mentioned this encounter years ago but it bears repeating. If nothing else, for myself, I guess. I flew into a convenience store in Ruskin. It was early evening and like almost always, I was in a hurry. I just wanted to run in, pick up something and run out. Naturally, there was a line for the cashier. I was behind an older man in a ratty t-shirt and dirty shorts. Worst of all, he had a lottery form in his hands. Great, just great. Now I get to waste precious moments of my life while the clerk goes through lottery gyrations for this guy’s elusive and worthless dream. Then I noticed the pre-packaged sandwich. Then I noticed the wedding ring on his finger.
In an instant my heart sank as I was struck with the knowledge that it was dinner time and that man had no one at home waiting for him. He had no one with whom to do the laundry. He had no one for whom to comb his hair or wash his hands. I knew without a doubt his wife was deceased. He was all alone in a crowded and lonely world.
When did I become such a jerk? When did shouting and threats and anger become cool? The people honking — how do they know the person who wasn’t quite quick enough for the stoplight wasn’t just returning home after losing a child. Or a spouse. When did we stop making room in our hearts for others?
We didn’t. The news is just putting the weirdos on the set. The man in the convenience store reminded me of that. The man in the parking lot encouraged me.
As I watched him slowly make his way through the huge parking lot, I wished I knew about his life. Did he watch buddies die serving our nation in a war? Did he sacrifice his needs and wants for those of his children? Did he work hard all his life to, like so many others, find a small piece of paradise among the hurried and impatient and sometimes angry masses?
I will never know. I am certain that he is not the kind of man to shout out his anger or his accomplishments. He is a quiet example. Men and women like him outnumber the loud and obnoxious. Sometimes it’s just hard to see that. But I’m glad that I saw him. I’m glad I found this little piece of paradise where there are so many others like him. I can hear their quiet examples so much better than the shouting.