Be Sure to Notice the Collateral Beauty

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Adrienne Gross -The Collateral Beauty3By Adrienne Gross |Twitter: @adrienne_gross

“So, what are you doing this weekend?”  The Trader Joe’s cashier asked, smiling, as she scanned my groceries right before closing. A holiday weekend was approaching, and most people were making plans for how to spend their extra free day from work.

“Well, I’ll probably go to the pool tomorrow with my family, then church on Sunday. On Monday I’m flying though …” I trailed off.

“Oh? For work? Vacation?”

“Actually,” I paused, because the tears were welling up in my eyes and I was embarrassed to cry in front of this smiling stranger. “I’m going to a funeral. A dear friend of mine died suddenly today.”

Her face fell as she received this unexpected answer to her small talk. She motioned to her manager as he walked by and then whispered something in his ear. He nodded and strolled toward the flowers.

“So you said you were close?” she asked.

I nodded and swallowed: “He was like a father to me.”

“I’m so sorry,” she said quietly. Her manager handed her an arrangement of roses, sunflowers, daisies and calla lilies, which she passed to me. “These are on us.”

My voice faltered for a moment. Saying thank you seemed too simple, but it was all I had.

“Thank you so much. That’s very kind of you,” I managed. I assumed she felt uncomfortable around me now and would stop talking, as most people do when someone they don’t know very well reveals details that are too personal. But she surprised me and continued.

“So where is the service?”

“Florida.”

“Oh, will you be near the beach?” She asked cheerfully. She was still smiling.

“Yes, but it’s a quick trip and I’ll be pretty busy. I don’t know if I’ll have time … but it would be nice to just go and sit at the beach for a little while,” I said.

“Yeah, just to sit there and look out at the ocean, watch the waves. Think about everything God made—just be grateful.” These thoughts and words spilled from her mouth as she scanned a box of Joe-Joe’s, a pack of bell peppers and a four-pack of ginger beer and arranged them neatly in a paper sack. I looked at her carefully. And for a moment, there I was, sitting on the smooth white sand and staring out at the churning waves. The sky was angry, stormy and stacked with clouds, like my thoughts, but beneath it was a blue-green ocean of life—unchanging, deep and churning. Deeply beautiful.

As I left the store with my bouquet gently nestled in the top of a bag, she told me, “Be at peace.”  Bold words to say to someone mourning, but they rang nicely in my ears.

I saw that she was right. It could be possible for me to grieve and be grateful. It could be possible for me to have lost something meaningful and be hopeful about life. This reluctant openness with a stranger resulted in a precious gift—the reassurance that God, like the ocean, is massive and unchanging and active for our good, that reservoirs of peace are possible in tumultuous times, and sometimes our vulnerability is required to receive it.

I walked into Trader Joe’s closed off. I didn’t want to tell anyone about my pain. I would never have chosen to reveal it to a perfect stranger. But I have also learned to watch for divine meetings, ordained conversations. I hesitantly opened and shared some of my sorrow. Although my grief lingers still, small moments like these serve as a reminder to recognize the beauty of fellowship amidst mourning.

In a film I saw recently, one of the main characters discusses the loss of a loved one. She says, “Just be sure to notice the collateral beauty. It doesn’t make the pain okay, but it’s there.”

There’s nothing like the beauty God offers. For me, God’s grand exchange of beauty for ashes was not only peace, but a cashier’s encouraging words and a bouquet of flowers.

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About Adrienne:

adrienne picAdrienne is a world traveler, deep thinker, and lover of challenges, wine and good conversation. She’s a published poet and magazine writer. She’s happily married and a mom of three beautiful little kids. Writer’s block is pretty normal as a mom of three young children, but one day Adrienne hopes to actually finish a novel! You can find her blog here. 

 

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  • I’m so glad you shared this story. With each of us in our own little bubbles standing behind our shopping carts, there’s not much hope or help.

    • Adrienne Folsom Gross

      It takes a bold person to recognize a moment to minister, and I’m so glad that she did. She was a blessing to me. May our eyes be open to see the pain around us!

  • Justine Hwang

    What a beautiful, simple, courageous, powerful interaction in just an ordinary moment of grocery shopping. I admit my default is closed off ness, *all* the time, even without the excuse of going through a difficult experience. But this challenges me to be open to the possibilities and God-interruptions. And not to be scared off by people’s “not fine” answers to the usual, “How are you?” that we rattle off without thinking. Thank you!

    • Adrienne Folsom Gross

      I think that we are always rewarded for meeting people in their need, even when it makes us uncomfortable. This lady was brave and a blessing to me. I’m glad you enjoyed the story.

  • this is gorgeous and true and beautiful. Thank you for posting it.

    • Adrienne Folsom Gross

      You bet!

  • Tracy Nelson

    yes, yes, YES!!! “It could be possible for me to grieve and be grateful. It could be possible for me to have lost something meaningful and be hopeful about life. ” such hope. Thank you.

    • Adrienne Folsom Gross

      There is ALWAYS hope.

  • I’m wildly ringing the virtual bell by the cash register for this post. 🙂

    As much a lesson in being vulnerable with others (something with which I struggle mightily) as it is in being truly present with people, ready to recognize opportunities to share God’s love.

    I pray peace for you as you walk the journey of grief.

    • Adrienne Folsom Gross

      Thanks Patricia.

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    So beautiful! Thank your for sharing your words so generously with us 💙