Walmart. The cereal aisle. I’m browsing a wall of colorful boxes. I’m interrupted by the voice of a child. A kid is riding on the front of a buggy like George Washington crossing the Delaware. His mother is driving. His father is following.

The kid is making airplane noises.

The child is small. His joints are bony. His skin is pale. He is bald. There is a half-moon-shaped scar on his scalp. Another scar travels down the back of his neck.

He jumps off the cart. His tennis shoes hit the floor hard with a loud squeak.

“Can I buy EVERY kinda cereal?” he asks.

“You’re not going to feel like cereal after surgery,” his father says.

“Let’s wait until surgery’s over,” adds his mother. “Once you’re better, then you can have as many boxes as you want.”

The boy is younger than young. Barely out of toddlerhood. He looks sick. And the parents’ words just hang in the air.

Surgery.

Next I see his mother and father scoop him into their arms. I have to leave the aisle quickly because of the prickling behind my nose and eyes.

All of a sudden, I am in the produce section. I see a Mexican family. They are standing in a huddle, speaking rapid-fire Español.

The youngest girl—maybe 10 years old—is teaching two adult women to speak English. The girl holds an onion toward them.

“UN-yun,” she says.

They adults say, “OWN-YOAN.”

“UNNN-yunnnn.”

“OWN-EEE-OWN.”

The girl laughs. The women laugh and remark, “Qué difícil es inglés.”

Which, you know, is so true.

Next I pass two elderly women, sharing the same walker to putter through the dairy department. They are having a heated conversation loud enough to affect the climate.

“Are we out of cheese?” says one.

“How should I know? You wrote the list, Charlene.”

“Don’t snap my head off, it was just a question.”

“Don’t gimme that. You’re always blaming me for everything, you big old cow.”

Good times.

By the time I get to the checkout line, it is long. There are only two cashiers open. And as it happens, I am a few shopping buggies behind the boy with the scar. In a moment, all the people in Walmart become temporarily invisible to me. I only see him. This child about to go under the knife.

The boy and I make eye contact for a brief moment. It’s not long, but just enough for him to smile at me. I smile back. His eyes are blue. He seems like the happiest creature God ever made. And I don’t know how he does it. How, I ask, does a mere child endure medical hell with a smile on his face?

When he and his parents leave through the double doors, he’s holding his father’s and mother’s hands and I’m wondering what kind of fate awaits him.

I’m thinking about life itself. How precious it is. How brief. Unpredictable. How good. Life is good.

I flatly disagree with any man who doesn’t think life is good. Because it is.

Family is good. Dogs are good, mothers are good, daddies are good. Sunsets, ice cream, screened porches, handwritten letters, wives, rainstorms over hayfields, toys in cereal boxes, striped bass, elderly women arguing in the dairy department, and Mexican families who help each other speak English. It’s all so beautiful that it hurts.

I hope that boy’s surgery went well.

26 comments

  1. oldlibrariansshelf - October 3, 2021 9:23 am

    Children are stronger than we adults are. My older sister spent an entire year in a hospital quarantined with polio when she was five. She sang songs she had learned in church. One gentleman who enjoyed her singing gave money to the nurses to get her ice cream. I’m glad you and the kid exchanged smiles. I’m glad the man in the hospital treated my sister with ice cream. Life IS good when we are good to each other.

    Reply
    • Rich - October 3, 2021 2:50 pm

      Love your last statement.

      Reply
  2. Ann - October 3, 2021 10:27 am

    See..feel…appreciate…thank you for helping us do so and bless the little children

    Reply
  3. Te - October 3, 2021 11:14 am

    The panoply of human life is music to God’s ears. His creation is working it. We don’t take time to notice. I admit, I never viewed a trip to the grocery as a lesson in human nature. I was in one the other day, scooting around as fast as I could with a cart as big as a Caddy, when I was halted by a young boy about 10 was manfully pushing an overloaded cart for his mother. Then he turned around and fetched a 2nd overloaded cart from her. The grandmother was lingering behind both of them, a thin wiry woman with a face full of life’s experience. “You must be buying for the month,” I quipped at her, or you re feeding 25 people.” She burst out laughing, shuffling her feet a little and ducking her head. “It feels like that sometimes!” We went our separate ways, but we were warmed by a brief exchange when that has been so rare for so long. And no one was wearing a mask.

    Reply
  4. Mary Ann Rousseau - October 3, 2021 12:20 pm

    Life is nor always good. When you are being abused, life is not good. You don’t see anything in the grocery store, nothing is good, you only see food to survive.
    Those of you that see beauty are blessed.

    Reply
    • philip c middleton - October 3, 2021 2:39 pm

      Thankyou Mary Ann. It is true, and you’re not alone. Our scars make us more beautiful for the compassion and empathy they give us. For those of us that don’t have such wonderful gifts that others have, we have each other.

      Reply
    • Beryl - October 3, 2021 3:27 pm

      Hello Mary Ann. I have been where you are. And yes, life through those glasses was not good, or so it seemed. Eventually, I came to understand a power, greater than us all, that was as close to me as my next breath. This power is within me and everyone, even the abuser. The difference between me and the abuser is that I wanted that power for joy, happiness, prosperity, and love and they did not. I don’t know your story but I KNOW there is a law of Cause and Effect. Simply, we are what we think. This is sometimes difficult for folks to grasp. Thinking thoughts like the ones listed above will yield the life you are truly meant to have not the one you are currently living. I am certain that you have a whole lot of fear and not much faith. Know this, if you change your thinking your life circumstances will also change, for that is the law in a nutshell. I also found doing kindnesses for others can quicken the life changes I am looking to create for myself. And so it is. B

      Reply
  5. Joe - October 3, 2021 12:28 pm

    Thanks for a beautiful description of things in plain sight.

    Reply
  6. Jan - October 3, 2021 12:43 pm

    Amen!

    Reply
  7. beachdreamer1 - October 3, 2021 1:50 pm

    First, I feel so sad for Mary Ann who just commented. And if she reads this, I want her to know I’ll be praying for her. I didn’t see the good for many years and it’s heart breaking to finally realize how many years were lost because of my depression. Am now 85. Just to say to Mary Ann, please get help! I didn’t know there was help available, sounds lame, but really, no one told me. God bless you.
    As to your story Sean….I love how you see with a different eye, a compassionate one, one that sees, really sees. Amazing what you can learn about people in Walmart or any neighborhood market and good that is out there if we take the time to see beyond what is visible. God bless you and Jamie. You are a blessing to so many. ❤️

    Reply
  8. Paul McCutchen - October 3, 2021 2:21 pm

    I still call my mom every week. A lot of times more than once but she prefers hand written letters. The arthritis in my hands makes even typing difficult. She told me once that a friend of my sisters found some hand written letters she had written to her parents. She said her mom had kept them all these years and she felt compelled to sit and write mom a letter. She even sent along some pictures of her family. Mom always tells me that you are able to keep letters like pictures. Not only read them over and over but look at the pictures time and again. My mother is in her 90’s and about the only thing tech she has is an answering machine on her hard line phone. She owns a cell phone but it is used when she drives somewhere.

    Reply
    • MaryAnn A Dunham - October 4, 2021 11:39 pm

      After our parents had passed away and my siblings and I were cleaning out their house, we found letters I’d written from college, letters they’d written, as well as some greeting cards.
      I kept the letters I’d written them. It’s sad that so few people write real letters and notes these days.

      Reply
  9. Michele Tiller - October 3, 2021 2:25 pm

    OH, Sean . . . . Thank you. Life is beautiful.

    Reply
  10. Suellen - October 3, 2021 3:31 pm

    We’ve had light thunderstorms going through and it’s been raining buckets all morning. I came out of church a few minutes ago and greeted everyone coming in with “it’s a beautiful morning”. They all replied “yes it is” and some looked at me like I was crazy but isn’t it always a beautiful day when God has given us another day and we are able to go and worship together?

    Reply
  11. Linda Moon - October 3, 2021 4:57 pm

    I’m glad you saw only the kid and exchanged smiles. I’m glad you think about LIFE itself….so many don’t…think, that is. Cancer and surgery and treatments all hurt for young and old alike, but especially the childhood cancers. Yet it, LIFE, is still so beautiful and good and inexplicably well with us souls.

    Reply
  12. Bobbie - October 3, 2021 6:00 pm

    Thanks, it is a way to remind us.

    Reply
  13. Keloth Anne - October 3, 2021 6:00 pm

    Oh Sean, you are incredible ♥️. You see so much, and not only do you hear but you truly listen. Your heart is so compassionate and we are so blessed that you share with us!
    God bless you and Jamie and that precious child 🙏♥️

    Reply
  14. Kathy - October 3, 2021 6:35 pm

    I do, too. Love.

    Reply
  15. MAM - October 3, 2021 9:25 pm

    Thank you for pointing out the positive in everything you see! We readers appreciate it, and yes we all hope that boy’s surgery went well! Thanks, Sean.

    Reply
  16. Debra Gamble - October 3, 2021 9:33 pm

    God, I love your writing. What a blessing you are to all. Thank you for sharing the gift God gave you!

    Reply
  17. Karen - October 3, 2021 10:55 pm

    I so agree with you, Sean. I have many sweet interactions with fellow shoppers. Life is good even when hard.

    Reply
  18. Phyllis McBride - October 4, 2021 12:51 am

    Sometimes, your writing is inspired. This is one of those times. Thank you.

    Reply
  19. Mary Ann B. - October 4, 2021 12:57 am

    Thank you Sean, for the reminder that life goes on, even in the aisles of Walmart. It’s where I learned that you can find smiles everywhere, even when faces are covered with masks. When isolation is long and heavy, the shared comments about the lack of beans or toilet paper sound sweet. And I hope I never forget to thank God that eyes smile too!

    Reply
  20. Karen Snyder - October 4, 2021 2:11 am

    A smile, a kind word, a helping hand, or a heartfelt prayer cost us nothing to give to another. Thank you, Sean, for your gentle gifts and daily reminders of what truly matters. I, too, hope that little one’s surgery was a success and that he has received all the cereal he wanted.

    Reply
  21. Nancy M - October 4, 2021 12:30 pm

    Praying for the little boy and his family, and for Mary Ann that she will get help and courage to leave her abuser. In Jesus’ name.

    Reply
  22. Gayle Wilson - October 5, 2021 2:40 pm

    Life truly is beautiful. Even as you said, even when things are not perfect, life is beautiful. All we need to do is open our eyes and change our compass of thought.

    Reply

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