Sunday, June 19, 2016

Elizabeth Gilbert's Light Lesson

Oprah Magazine May 2016
Elizabeth Gilbert begins, "When the world feels cold and dark and lonely, take heart: Anybody can make their corner of it brighter."

This I know, in Oprah's language, for sure.

Just Friday, before going over to a friend's end of the school year party, I decided to run up Michigan Avenue to the shops to buy a new summer dress. It has been a long school year amidst the crumbling of a large district, broke city, and locked down state government. Only two days left to crawl through to get to the other side and summer vacation.

I found a dress. It took some time. The selling floor was a mess. The sales associates gossiped the entire time that I was in their area. And I wondered, again, how the universe made it possible for Macy's to take over what was once a great store, Marshall Field's. I try to avoid it at all costs, but I found street parking, and it was convenient. Sadly, convenience sometimes trumps principle.  I don't feel too bad ... I'm just talking about shopping here.

On my way out of the door, I saw the candy counter. Oh, boy. When I worked at Marshall Field's at the State Street flagship store, I discovered the malted milk ball. Every now and again, I'd sneak downstairs during a busy sale day and buy a dollar's worth of the round chocolatey goodness. If the candy counter was out, I'd ride the employee elevator to run into a candy maker. Yes, all of the candy, at that time, was made on the 13th floor of the State Street store. And if I said to one of them, hey! you're out of malted milk balls ... well, they'd be on the counter the next day. Or something like that.

How could I pass the candy counter up? The sales associate said, 'what can I get for you?' One dollar of malted milk balls, please. 'Bulk candy is 30% off, why not $2?' No, he didn't. He did a $1 suggestive sell in the bulk candy department. He was a man after my own heart. If you give a good suggestive sell, in honor of the ten years that I encouraged my staff of sales associates to do the same, I have to go with it. I said, 'sure.' He dipped his dipper into the container and weighed out one more dollar. Then, he held up the bag and said, 'this sure doesn't look like very much ... maybe one more dollar?' Who was this guy that Macy's probably only pays $8/hour to shovel out bulk candy? I love him! I said no to the one more dollar because I didn't need all of that chocolate. And I enjoyed those lovely balls that I hold on my tongue to let the chocolate melt in my mouth before I am rewarded with a malty inner joy of a crunch. But what he did for me  more than sell me candy was to lift the substantial weights that stacked on my shoulders like books from a hard school year. The song goes, it only takes a moment ... and this it did.

It is true, not everyone is going to experience the same therapy from a candy counter sale. In Gilbert's article, it was a bus driver that changed the mood of a busload of people. The key here is that it was a stranger who made a human connection. Sometimes, friends and family try super hard to encourage happiness when grumpiness or tiredness is channeling through their loved one without success. But it's the reach in from outside that pulls us into the bigger world of humanity. What seems like our very big problems or feelings that those we know might be a part of are put into perspective on a larger canvas.  I know that we are taught as children to not talk to strangers, but as adults, I think, that sometimes that is exactly who we should talk to turn our lights back on.

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