Her name is Debra. I met her In a Publix grocery store maybe fifteen years ago. We were different people then. I am still a private and contemplative introvert, and she is still a socially-oriented extrovert. One might naturally conclude that we are polar opposites. However, we do share the human quality of human endurance as we experience life in our own individually unique ways.
Our first encounter was a bit rough-around-the-edges and unsettling for me. That day I was in a space of quietude that was diametrically opposed to her boisterous nonstop chatter. I perceived myself tolerant as I tried to graciously endure her endless stream of words. And not soon enough my groceries were dutifully deposited onto the back seat of my Toyota. After a curt “Thank You”, I started the car attempting to leave the unpleasant feelings of energy invasion behind me. As I drove away, I silently vowed to do my best to avoid Debra’s help in the future.
Before this encounter, I was vaguely aware that Publix was known for its diverse hiring practices which included a certain percentage of handicapped employees. And up to that first meeting with Debra, who was born with Down’s Syndrome, I actually admired the grocery chain’s commitment to offering jobs to those who might be mentally challenged. After that day, though, I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of their compassionate practice. Note the internet post from October 6, 2017:
Publix was recognized for hiring 1,190 people through the state’s Vocational Rehabilitation program during the past five years. It has hired 319 people this year. “These deserving companies have made a commitment to employing a diverse workforce,” said Barbara Palmer, director of the Disabilities Agency. “These businesses know that individuals with special abilities are some of the most dedicated employees you can find.”
For several more shopping visits, I did my darndest to check out with a different cashier than where I saw Debra bagging. Apparently, the fates planned a different scenario. Despite my efforts, Debra would spontaneously pop up to serve me anyway. Finally, one day while nursing my feelings of frustration and anger, I realized would never work out under my egoic will. Obviously, it was beyond time to meditate about the situation.
In the meditation, it became clear that I needed to see differently-I needed to shift my attitude. After all, we are one human family and Debra deserves as much respect as everyone else. Not inconsequentially, my inner angst was ruining the joy of grocery shopping for me. Additionally, from my long career in healthcare, I am clearly aware that mentally challenged people often have a more empathic sense of what others are feeling. My small-minded behavior was just not acceptable to my Higher Self. In fact, as my shopping became more perfunctory, it felt like a chore rather than joy. Of course, there were alternative places to shop but my intuition and guidance said to stick with this one. So, I continued to ponder what the best corrective behavior might be.
Whispers of Spirit suggested that on my next visit I would intentionally choose to encounter Debra and speak kindly with her. I would be fully present with her and make the effort to see beyond the human body and personality and to “taste her innocent Essence”. It worked! I felt into her pure heart and in that nanosecond, I loved her just as she was.
I began that day to really listen to Debra’s chatter. It was mostly about the weather or her personal state of health or maybe sometimes how she was feeling about other customer interactions. The joy of shopping returned in full force as I looked forward to the brief encounters with Debra. At some point, I even began to feel slight disappointment if Debra wasn’t there on my shopping day. From my perspective, she really is a ray of sunshine for many whose path encounters hers.
Last week, for the first time after the Alabama State mask mandate was lifted and my COVID-19 vaccinations were months behind me, I decided to shop with a free face. As I traversed the aisles of the store shopping normally, I would frequently see Debra just watching me. At one point she was standing within a few feet of me. She grinned hugely as she triumphantly stated, “I’m watching you!” I smiled and spoke as I showed the package of crackers I was holding. I asked, “Well, do you approve?” She nodded an enthusiastic “yes” in response and we both moved on.
It was no surprise when, about 20 minutes later, Debra made her way to where my groceries were being bagged. She asked if she could help me out with my groceries. It seemed obvious that she wanted to share something with me.
On our way to the car, she quickly revealed that her mother had just died a couple of weeks ago. As her dad had already passed only a few months before that, Debra sadly declared, “Now I am alone. I thought maybe I wouldn’t work anymore but y’all (meaning peers and customers) are my family now and I like working so I can see you all”. Then she emphasized that she, too, has health problems and has to visit the Primary Care Center but she loves her work and wants to be there every day that she isn’t sick.
She took her time methodically and carefully placing the four bags of groceries neatly onto the back seat. As she closed the door, she offered a final, simple and confident statement, “Y’all) are my family now and y’all can help me keep happy.” Need I say that I drove away with a lump in my throat, tears in my eyes, and gratitude in my heart that I could now be a loving presence and honor her by listening as she honors me by sharing what is deeply impacting her life. This particular exchange reminds me, once again, that all people regardless of personality, status, or other observable external differences innately, from birth, share a common love given to each soul directly from Source and we will always endure life’s challenges and hardships better together than apart.
Wanda Gail Campbell
Wanda has served thirty-plus years as a healthcare professional. Currently, she serves as a Minister of Peace ordained by The Beloved Community. In July 2007 she completed her Ph.D. in Philosophy focused on Intercultural Peacemaking. For her own spiritual nourishment, she enjoys reading both contemporary and ancient spiritual writings.