I am in line at the local supermarket waiting for the painfully young cashier to finish up with the customer in front of me. I am 51. Which means that every young person looks about 12, give or take a few months. And fragile. They all look so fragile. This one, this soft-spoken willow of a girl, with her punked-out short hair, funky black rubber bracelets, and flawless, make-up-less pink skin, this one just about kills me.
We do the thing.
“Do you have a Price Plus card?”
“I sure do.”
“Do you have any coupons?”
“No ma’am. But I have a gift card, so I’ll be paying in two ways. Just to make you a little crazy.”
“Oh, I’m already a little crazy just from working here.” And with that, she looks at me just for a moment, and I look at her too. We giggle a little. Because, and I mean this:
“Aren’t we all some kinda crazy?”
She swipes. I pack. We are partners.
After settling my things in my cart, making sure to not squish the bread, I come back up the aisle to pay for my stuff. As she punches in code and amount and abra-cadabra on her machine, I notice a beautiful tattoo on the inside of her wrist. At first glance, it seems to be a yin and yang symbol. But a closer look renders something more. Something different. With something else, smaller images of some kind, taking flight from it. Her wrists are frail. The tattoo is small. Perfectly black on perfectly clean, clear, delicate skin.
“Your tattoo. It’s beautiful.”
“Oh, I got it the day after Carrie Fisher died.”
I tilt my head. It’s the best I can do to not hug her. “That is so cool.”
“Yeah,” she nods, as she wraps up a chicken I haven’t put in my cart yet. “She was a big champion for people with mental illness. And the next Star Wars…”
And here, we catch each other’s eyes again. Moved.
“She will be terribly missed,” says this amazing kid, who honors a champion for people with mental illness for reasons I can only guess at.
She puts one last item in a bag for me, a chicken my mom wants for soup. And as is my custom, if someone is wearing a name tag and they’ve helped me, I read the tag and thank them personally. The tag reads Isaiah. My heart skips.
“Thank you, Isaiah. Have a great night.” I smile big.
He smiles big back. “You too. And don’t forget your chicken.”
I pull away with my cart as if nothing. I want to stop, turn around and apologize. Because I don’t know if I got it right and I want Isaiah to know that I want to get it right. I don’t care that she is a she or he is a he. I only care that “ma’am” might have hurt. But shining a glaring light on it might hurt more. So I keep walking, worried, justifying, hoping, regretting.
I walk across the parking lot, praying for God and the Universe to cover that whisper of a child in a protective blue light. Around the prayer, a shitstorm of unkindness toward this big, bad world, and what it means to be Isaiah in it.
But Isaiah is in it. And today, when I looked up at this big, bad world, I saw him. And as my faith dissolves into the question, what can I do, maybe all I can do is remember to look up.