Focus on the Positive: A parable of three strangers

 

“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”Proverbs 11:25

 

John, my husband and middle school Theology teacher, once had a discussion with a few of his classes regarding if there were more bad people or good people in the world. Most of his students felt there were more bad. I was stunned to hear this. However, I experienced three encounters of late that illustrated how easy it is to allow one bad apple to overshadow all the good in the world.

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Encounter #1. It is often my habit on weekend to complete grocery store stock-ups at a nearby location with a Starbucks. After unloading my groceries and returning the cart to the store’s entrance, I’ll usually visit the Starbucks kiosk. Corey, the familiar and affable, ever-smiling barista, remembers my coffee preference, makes it extra hot, and serves it to me without a wrap in order for me to warm my store-frozen fingers.

 

On a recent Saturday, I was pushed for time. I decided if there were a line at Starbucks, I’d skip the coffee.   From the shopping cart area, I could see there was no one in line. I walked hastily to snag my spot at the counter when a tall, elegant woman, perhaps 5-10 years older than me, approached from the opposite side. I slowed my pace in order to turn around and exit the store. As I began to turn, the stranger’s eyes met mine.

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“Please, Dear, don’t go. You seem in a hurry. I have all of the time in the world,” she stated, gesturing with her arm for me to step up first.

 

I felt reluctant, but her smile assured me of her genuine feelings. As my coffee was made, I thanked the woman once more. She smiled and uttered, “Merry Christmas, my Dear.” I can still see her smart red pea coat with matching name-brand leather purse, black dress slacks, coifed short bottle-black hair as well as Corey’s beaming face as he handed me my coffee.

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Corey is an example of a person who continually offers positive and joyful energy to others on a daily basis–even if he doesn’t like to get his picture taken!  🙂

 

Encounter #2. Inevitably, it seems I must stop at the grocery store during the workweek. On one such stop, I was moving up and down aisles at a clipped pace trying to find the items on my list. Repeatedly, I encountered a warmly dressed elderly lady with tightly ringed gray hair encircling her head like a silver tiara. Her demeanor was almost ethereal, and her self-possessed smile was a constant fixture upon her finely lined face.

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She had the habit of leaving her shopping cart in the middle of aisles, so that no one could get around it as she focused on reading labels and searching shelves. By the second, third, and fourth encounter with her, she recognized my face and laughed, “Oh, here I go again, blocking your way.”

 

I tried not to feel irritated, as I knew she genuinely did not mean to slow me down.  I had also inadvertently blocked the path of numerous other customers over the years doing the exact same thing.

 

Later, quickly trekking to my car, I paused just before nearing it. A shopping cart blocked the path to my vehicle as someone placed groceries into a van. It was, unbelievably, the same woman.

 

“Oh, here I go again, blocking your way. Is this your car? I was just admiring it. Here, let me move. I am not in any hurry.”

 

While I loaded my bags into my car, she explained that she was making food baskets for low-income families.

 

“And, I refuse to buy the cheap off-brands for them with all those chemicals. If I won’t eat it, why would I give it to someone else to eat? I buy them the same foods and brands I eat. What kind of gift would it be, if I gave them less than my best?”

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Encounter #3. Returning the following Saturday for another weekend grocery stock-up, the store was packed. Every cash register was open; and yet, lines were still backed up into the aisles. I chose a line and prepared for the long wait. Suddenly, a small, beady-eyed woman, perhaps a bit older than me, bustled her cart beside mine.

 

“I’m going to stand beside you until I can get behind you. I don’t want to block the aisle.”

 

It was then that I noticed she only had a few items in her cart. I was prepared to tell her she could get in front of me; however, she was talking in a nonstop manner with one continuous breath. I smiled, waiting for an opportunity, when suddenly my ears perked up.

“And you know, we prayed and prayed, and the Lord provided them with a white baby to adopt . . . .”

 

Wait. What? I felt the implication in my bones and thought of the range of skin colors within my own family, friends, students, co-workers, as well as my day-to-day interactions. Surely, I misheard, right? Nope, her blatant attitude was as set as her chin. I felt the heat rise to my cheeks as I interrupted her, stating through teeth wanting to clinch, that she was welcome to step in front of me. Thankfully, an acquaintance joined the line behind me, and distracted me from this unkind person.

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We can choose to focus on all the broken & sad pieces of news, or we can choose to focus on the positive. 

 

Several minutes later, driving home, I reflected on all three women. I could choose to focus and seethe over the words of the last woman; or, I could, instead, focus on the words and actions of the other two ladies, and for that matter, all of the other countless kind and generous people I encounter on a regular basis. If I continued to allow this encounter to fester within me, then I was, in some way, becoming like her.

 

In a time-period full of off-putting people and/or events, it is all too easy to focus solely upon those negatives. We must, instead, heed the examples of the first two women, and offer kindness to others. Furthermore, while we must diligently be aware of all the harmful forces at work in our world, we must also strive just as conscientiously to provide the opposite. We must join forces with others who seek out actions that attempt to bring about positive change.   Finally, just as we sometimes focus on the dust, dirt, and disorder in our own home, overlooking the shelter, warmth, and respite it offers us, so too, must we train our minds to look beyond the disorder and decay of our world, and see there still remains much for which to feel optimistic as the first two woman beautifully illustrated.

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