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“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter,
and sharing of pleasures.
For in the dew of little things
the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”
Khalil Gibran

I met him at Wal-Mart.  I don’t know his name.  I really wish I did.  I really wish I knew everything about him—why he was here in this country, why he worked where he did.

He was the cashier in the line that I happened to be in.  He was thin and angular and probably around 60 years old.

And yes we were, like most other Wal-Mart customers in that queue, in a hurry.  A huge hurry.  Such is life.

He saw the Miracle Gro and Super Bloom that I was buying, and he said, “So, you are taking care of your garden, Yes?”  I knew immediately by the interrogative at the end of the sentence that he was a foreigner and that because of his interest in gardening, that he was a man who inhabited the same nurturing sphere of the planet that I did.  The garden.  There are those of us who happen to know that in the garden is where life has meaning, where God exists.  We are the ones who hope to walk with God in the garden in the cool of the day.  We connect in places that others overlook.

Yes, I answered.  I’m doing my best to keep my plants alive and thriving.  “Oh,” he said, “How I love fruit trees!  They are what I truly, truly love.  I don’t have to eat the fruit.  That is not what I love so much.  It is the watching.  It is the beauty of the flower, and then the seed, and then the fruit.  To watch a fruit tree is to watch life.”

Well, let me tell you, I knew in that moment that this was no ordinary encounter at the local Wal-Mart.  I was at the checkout stand of a Poet.  A Philosopher.  The Khalil Gibran of Wal-Mart. The women in the line behind me were grumbling.  I could hear them, loud and clear.  “Well, they’re takin’ their sweet time, aren’t they?” they said, and I must admit I understood their frustration.   I wanted to hurry things along for their sake, and yet I wanted to stay and talk to this Poet for the rest of the day.

In the short amount of time we were allotted, I learned that he was from Syria.  He liked to eat small little cucumbers but, alas, Wal-Mart didn’t sell them.  The only place you could find them was in the Middle Eastern markets in downtown Houston.  He also loved quince.  “Do you know quince?” he asked me, and I had to admit that, while I had heard of it and, perhaps in an earlier day, had maybe seen a flowering one once, I had never known what the point of one was.

An ancient fruit, I have learned since, quince has often been translated to “apple.”  The fruit mentioned in Song of Solomon may have actually been quince.  It isn’t very hardy here in the states, and especially in the South with our warm winters.  But, in other parts of the world, it thrives.  When a baby is born in Croatia, a quince tree is planted as a symbol of fertility, love and life.  So, okay, I maybe need to learn about the quince.  But more than the plant, his comments made me think about him and about my impatience with people like him.

I, too, have been in a hurry, have been impatient with shoppers and clerks who are chatting away, oblivious to my time constraints. And, come on, I am a busy person.  I have a life.  Time is money, right?

I hope I can remember this wonderful man from Syria the next time I’m in a hurry to check out of a store.  This Poet.  This man who loves small cucumbers and quince.

If I’m in the line where a shopper and cashier are talking away, I hope I will stop and acknowledge that what they are doing is forging a relationship.  They’re not necessarily stealing my time.  They’re making the most of theirs.  Because, after all, that is what this life is all about, isn’t it?  It’s about relationships. That is supposed to be what we are here for.   I hope I can remember that.

Thank you, I want to say to that man in Wal-Mart.  Thank you for offering me something I might never have gotten anywhere else.  That life is about stopping to taste the small cucumber.  That life is about relishing the beautiful quince.

Life is about noticing.  It’s about reflecting.  It’s about sharing what I love with what you love.   It’s about stopping the rush of our lives to share.  Even if just a bit.  Even if it’s just in the check-out line at the local Wal-Mart.  Even if I feel that I’m in such a hurry that there is no time to spare.   Life, I have to remember and tell myself, is about relationship.

Wal-Mart…who would’ve thought…