“Do you know what a Webkin is?” she asked in Rite Aid, aisle three.
“Do you mean Webkinz?” I replied, noting the hottest stuffed animal craze since Beanie Babies.
“Oh! Yes, that’s what my niece wants for her birthday. She’s about the same age as your daughter there. Do they sell them here?”
It was the beginning of a conversation that could have happened to anyone, anywhere. Then Cora looked up. She looked out. She looked beyond. She let something go. And so did I. The exact moment wasn’t obvious to either of us. Perhaps it was the way she spoke to my children, or when she revealed she was a teacher. Maybe she saw my dangling cross, but fifteen minutes later, we were still chatting, people maneuvering around, curious eyes glancing at us in Rite Aid, aisle three. Finally, my son’s tugging and my daughter’s, “I’m hungry,” signaled a time for closure.
I couldn’t shake Cora from my mind, however, while standing in the endless prescription line.
“I have over twenty years in as a teacher,” she had confessed.
"…just here to pick up a few ornaments for a Christmas tree for my eighth-graders. That’s what they said they wanted, so a few of us decided to chip in.”
I cringed at the thought of a rickety room full of eighth-graders. I taught high school for twelve years myself, but eighth-graders? They’re tactless aliens. And she was going to get the ingrates a tree?
“I love my kids,” she explained. “There’s just something about them. I don’t have any of my own. You know, we just got this new student. She’s a, a whaddayacallit, a Gothic?”
“A Goth? In eighth grade, huh?” I smirked. Yeah, I bet that one will have a field day with a Christmas tree, I thought. This woman should be awarded sainthood.
“She’s wreaking havoc in our school, saying awful things, being moody and mean. Somehow she talks to me, though.” I could believe it. Talking to Cora was as easy and comfortable as chatting with my big sister. I hoped the Goth knew what she had in Miss Cora.
“Hey, have you ever heard of something called As-bergers? They say she has that,” said a concerned Cora.
The words stole my breath.
“Did you say, Aspergers?” I managed.
Perceptive Cora read my stunned expression, “Um…yeah. It’s a mild form of autism, right?” she probed. “Smart kids, but very quirky.”
Still speechless, all I could do was covertly point to my son, who was yanking on my shoulder for the fortieth time, ignoring all social rules about interrupting one’s mother.
“Can I go to the toys? Can I go to the toys? Can I go to the toys?” he kept repeating. More yanking. The toy aisle in plain sight, I finally granted his escape.
“He has Aspergers?” she whispered.
“We think so. Diagnosis is a long process, but right now it sure explains a lot,” I answered. “Did you say the Goth girl just moved here? Because if she did, and she has AS, you’re a Godsend. AS kids don’t handle change well…messes up their whole world. They’re hypersensitive and need a lot of structure just to stay at even-keel,” I continued. “My son almost loses his mind at the beginning of every school year. At the end, too. It takes us weeks to get him settled. Drives his teachers crazy. Your Goth girl is gonna need somebody.”
It was Cora’s turn to be wordless. Finally, she sputtered, “So, that’s why the Lord had me come in here today...to meet you!” An odd thing to say, but I felt it too.
“Do you want cash back, Lady?” the cashier at the prescription counter barked, interrupting my thoughts.
“Uh, yes. Yes I do,” I smiled. Ten dollars led me back to aisle three. Thank you, Jesus, I prayed. She’s still there. “Cora, this is my contribution to your Christmas tree. Those eighth graders are lucky to have you.” Cora was the kind of person you’d give a million dollars, if you had it. Yet, she acted like my ten dollars was a million, so what’s the difference? I looked directly into her brown eyes one more time, praying that in the future, my son might be as lucky as the Goth girl to have a teacher like Miss Cora. A teacher more inclined to mercy than judgment. “God bless you, Cora."
My Rite Aid rendezvous hasn’t quickly left me, and neither have thoughts of Cora and her eighth-graders. I could easily have dismissed her by grunting a, “No,” or by quickening my step.
I’m glad I didn’t.
We are swift in cursing our hectic lives, aren't we? Sometimes, in the rush of completing one errand, one task after another, we even declare God’s absence. "Where are you, Lord?" we ask.
Look up every once in awhile, will you? He’s right there…right there in front of you.
You’ll be glad you did.
"Pay attention, Job, and listen to me; be silent, and I will speak." Job 33:31