I saw him struggling with his groceries as I walked through the store.
I passed him a few times and watched him checking his list he had scribbled out on a note card.
He was an older gentleman. I think in his late 70’s or early 80’s. He was nicely dressed which gave me the impression that he had a successful life. His white hair was cut short and neatly trimmed. He moved slowly and appeared to depend on the cart he was pushing for support.
Finally I stopped and asked if he needed help finding things.
At first he appeared to either ignore me or had difficulty hearing me.
“Do you need help, sir?” I said louder.
He turned and said with a quiet whisper, “I’m not deaf. I was just thinking what kind of help you could offer me.”
“Well, I know this store well enough. I shop here often. I just thought if you weren’t familiar with where things were I could help you,” I said.
He scanned his list, looked up at me and said, “Well, I’m guessing the meat is in the meat department. The dairy in the dairy. The cereal in the cereal aisle.”
“Okay,” I said and walked away.
I thought it to be a bit rude, actually. A simple, “No thank you” would have been fine.
It was only a few minutes and there he was headed my way again. I smiled and kept walking.
I arrived at the check out and discovered that he had already finished his shopping and was headed out the door.
“Do you know that man?” I asked the clerk and pointed in his direction.
“No, that’s the first time I’ve seen him,” she replied.
As I walked out the door I scanned the lot to see if he was nearby.
There he was in the first spot marked “Handicapped Parking.”
He was driving an old Chevy that was in such disrepair I can’t imagine how it passed inspection. It was in stark contrast to the image I had of him.
As I walked by I heard a crashing sound. I turned to discover he had dropped one of his bags. I hesitated to go to him thinking he’d only reject my help. But, I saw that he was struggling and had to at least offer it.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s you again,” he said.
I just stood there silently waiting for his response.
“Well, don’t just stand there,” he said.
I shook my head and gathered all his groceries.
“Why did you hesitate to help me?” He asked.
I smiled and said, “Well, I figured if you needed help you could find it in the help department.”
There was a slight pause and then we both laughed.
“I didn’t mean to come across so rude,” he said. “It’s just hard for me to think that I need help. I’ve been so independent all my life.”
“I understand.” I said as I placed his bag in the back seat of his car.
“I’m tired of living like this,” he said. “I always thought that life was like a play and each day was just a rehearsal for the big show.”
He opened his front door and turned to me.
“I never really got my chance to show what I could do. I mean, in the big show someone would call, “Places, everybody!” I’ve been rehearsing all my life for that moment,” he said.
“Now, I’m moving too slow, dropping things, can’t walk without a cane.”
He placed his hands on my shoulder. We looked at each other for a moment. I could see a lifetime in the lines and creases in his soft, supple skin.
“Look at me. I’m old and wrinkled now,” he said.
“That’s how you see it. Those wrinkles around your eyes that you speak of, appear to be from a life time of smiles. You don’t have lines across your forehead from wearing a frown too much,” I told him.
He smiled and a tear in the corner of his eye slid down his face. He nervously wiped it away trying not to appear so sentimental.
“There, you just proved it to me. Your smile makes you look young again.”
“Thank you,” he said softly.
“Besides, my friend. You had the leading role in the your life time play. God chose you to play it because He knew you’d be the best one. No one could have played the part better. You may not have heard Him say it but every time He called “Places” you responded.”
He reached out and shook my hand.
“Besides, this is all just a rehearsal,” I said. “The Really Big Show” is ahead of us,” I said doing my best imitation of Ed Sullivan.”
He smiled, got in his car and before closing the door he said, “Thanks for your help.
But don’t give up your day job. Ed Sullivan just rolled over in his grave.”
Maybe that’s what this is all about. Maybe the life we are living is like role playing. We get the part, we try our best and sometimes things change and we get recast into other roles. The Director calls “Places everyone!” Each morning and we go about our lives hoping that in the end there’s an award ceremony and we get the recognition we deserve.
William Shakespeare said it best in “As you like it”.
“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts”
“And the award for best actor in a supporting role goes to…You!”