As the holidays near we feel our frustration levels rising. The following is a true story a client related to me. I found it profound in proving that help is always there if we listen and believe. Of course I have changed the names, but the story is her’s.
I’m AJ, short for Annie Jo, but who calls themselves Annie Jo unless you’re in residence in the Mississippi Delta. I sat at a café table in the food court of a Chicago mall, sipping a latte. I was supposed to be shopping but decided a cup of coffee and an escape to the depths of my mind was a just reward for two days of cooking and eight hours of verbal abuse from my family. After all of that, today is truly a black Friday.
Sitting at a table next to me was a woman about my age peeling an orange. I was fascinated by her meticulous action. Piece by piece she tore away small bits of the rind, laying them on a napkin with care. When all the rind was removed, she slowly broke apart the meaty sections one by one, placing them in a row across the bottom of the napkin. She then did something I found very peculiar. She just sat there staring at them as tears slowly rolled down her checks.
I know the holidays are stressful, but crying over an orange is a bit extreme in anyone’s book. I’m not sure if it was curiosity or compassion that compelled me to put my hand on her shoulder and speak to her. “Are you all right?” I asked as she looked at me through glistening eyes. “I know I’m a stranger, but I’m a good listener.”
You have to understand that people in Chicago do not talk to strangers. It’s the rule, but I’m not from Chicago, so I took a chance. She continued her silent stare for a few moments, but then turned her eyes back to the napkin.
In a whisper of a voice, she began by picking up one section of the orange. “This is one part of me, the daughter. The sweet juice within is protected by a bitter membrane covering.” She continued to pick up one section after another of the orange, naming each one. “This is the wife. This one’s the mother. This one’s the artist. This is the housekeeper and cook. This one’s the prostitute. This, the social director and chauffer. This is the shopper and this tiny section here is me who doesn’t know who me is.” She lowered her head and a massive flow of tears prevented any more words from coming.
I had no response so I simply sat there with a understanding hand still on her shoulder.
After what seemed like an eternity, she raised her head and mouthed “Thank you,” gathered her packages and left. As I looked in the direction that she had gone, there was no sign of her, which was impossible since the food court was wide open. Where had she disappeared to?
I sat there dazed, lost in my thoughts. What had just happened? After several moments of reflection, I gathered my belongings and walked to the fruit stand and ordered. Being the flu season, they were pushing oranges. “No thank you.” I said. “Today I want a peach. It has a strong center and only a sweet soft skin protecting it’s inner essence.” The teenage clerk looked at me as though I had had one too many prescription happy pills. “You’ll understand when you are older.” I told her. She just shrugged her shoulders.
Even today, I have a peach sitting on my kitchen counter as a reminder of that day at the mall. Its skin sometimes wrinkles, but the core remains solid and the meaty juices sweet.