Pandemic Pietá

I’m at the front of the checkout line at the local drug store, just behind the yellow line, sporting my cherry print pandemic mask. The customer standing at the counter clutches the handles of his rollator—a walker with a seat. He looks to be in his 50’s, but he might be younger. Scraggly beard and hair, a leather pouch with a shoulder strap tucked under one arm. He looks worn down.

He and the checkout lady discuss his purchase through the hand-made Plexiglas shield screwed into the counter top. Neither of them are wearing a mask.

After some back-and-forth, she rings up his purchase. He edges around the rollator, sits, and pushes a card in the credit card reader. He pulls the card out of the reader and signs. She hands him his purchase in a brown paper bag. He struggles to reach around and open the flap of his leather pouch, but can’t manage it from a seated position.

He says something to the checker. She comes out from behind the shield, circles the counter, crouches down beside him, opens his pouch, and tucks his purchase inside. He says something else, and she takes another small package from him and tucks it into a separate container on the other side of the rollator. Their faces are within inches of each other. Neither of them look happy about it.

The checker returns behind the counter. The man stands and moves behind the rollator, holding its handles for balance. Its wheels are now angled in and up against the counter. He tugs and pushes, tugs and pushes to get it straightened out, finally jerking it free with a “You son-of-a-bitch!”

Then he leaves the store.

Later, driving home, I picture again the checker’s face near his. An image of the Pietà flashes across my inner eye. Then I imagine him struggling with his equipment, and me stepping forward to help. I steady him with a hand on his elbow while together we maneuver the rollator free.

Well, I hadn’t done that. The rationalist inside me says I did the right thing. After all, I could be a symptom-free carrier of the virus myself and infect him, a vulnerable person. Valid and true.

But that’s not the reason I stood frozen at the head of the line. I was afraid that he would infect me—if not with the coronavirus, then maybe with something else. Maybe bad luck and trouble.

I want to be brave. I want to be kind. And at that moment, I wanted him away.

Once he was gone, I bought my stuff. The checker and I exchanged glances through the Plexiglass shield, but we didn’t speak, except for the cost of the goods.

Keep watch, O Holy One, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Beloved; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.

Adapted from Compline, in the Book of Common Prayer.

6 thoughts on “Pandemic Pietá

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  1. I love having a window into these small events. They are what our lives and lessons are made of. Thanks Margaret.

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  2. 1960 in the Air Force stationed in the Arctic on Baffin Island (west of Greenland east of Canada.)  Summer 6 months.  Winter 6 months.
    In the middle of the nearly endless winter with 200 of is living and working in a large steel 3 story building on stilts to keep the heat of the building from melting the permafrost. 

    It’s far too cold to be outside for long.  It’s a weekend, my shift in the radio shack is over.  Many (perhaps most) of the guys were drinking away their boredom in the building’s NCO club.  I was walking the halls on the first floor for a bit of exercise and similar boredom.  The exit doors of the building have prominent signs warning of the cold telling us how long we’d have outside to freeze to death.  We were in the midst of one of the coldest days of the winter.   I passed an outer door and the sign said exposed flesh freezes in just a few seconds.  Unusually cold that night.
    The next time around the corridor there was a drunk outside on the steps wearing only fatigues.  I’d become completely sick of the drunks, and walked on. 
    In a few minutes I felt guilty and walked back to get him inside.  He was gone.  Not on the steps.  Not in the long corridor.  Gone.  
    There were only 200 of us in the building.  I’d never seen him before and never saw him again.  If he’d die in the snow and cold his body would have been found sooner or later.
    The whole thing seemed as impossible then as it does now.  An angel giving me a lesson?  Jesus giving me a chance?  I still don’t know, maybe never will.

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