The world as we know it did not end. When December 22 came right on schedule, I realized that I hadn't done much in the way of holiday decorating, so I set forth on that bitterly cold morning in search of a holiday wreath.
Shortly after hitting the road, I passed a young woman walking in the opposite direction. The temperature was still in the 20s and she -- in her lightweight jacket and bare ankles-- had arms wrapped around her body, which provided almost no protection against the draft created by passing cars. I wondered briefly where she was headed and hoped she'd get there soon. I was bundled in full winter gear, but just getting from my car to the shops sent rippling chills through my body.
I found many wreaths, all of them too glitzy, too glittery, too big, too small, too purple and orange (!) but none that was simple, elegant, and friendly in a homespun sort of way. After checking with all the most-likely shops and a few not-a-chance shops, I accepted that I would have to get through this holiday wreathless, and vowed to get an earlier start on the decorating next year.
As I retraced my route on the way home, I spotted that shivering young woman still hurrying down the side of the highway. I whipped my car onto the shoulder of the road ahead of her, wondering as I did what the heck I was thinking. I haven't picked up a stranger since I was 16 (his name was Michael, he carried a guitar over his shoulder, and he had recently returned from Viet Nam) and here I was --old enough now to know how dangerous it is to trust ANYone in this day and age-- opening the passenger-side door and calling out to a potential thief or serial killer to "Hop in before you freeze!"
Cold as she was, this young woman approached cautiously. She peeked in at me before accepting my offer of a ride and, once in the car, she remained perched on the seat, ready to bolt should I turn out to be the thief or serial killer. She was walking to work, she told me, because her regular ride hadn't shown up that morning. Our small talk seemed strained to me, but that may have been because I was trying so hard to pretend that we were not assessing each other, not alert to any sign of imminent threat posed by the other.
I delivered her to the door of her workplace and wished her a nice day. Should I be baffled by my impetuous act of kindness? I wondered. Or horrified that the world as we know it is such a place that a simple, neighborly act has to be dissected?
Still pondering the implications, I spotted a year-round roadside produce stand that --I recalled with glee-- carried Christmas trees and (hurrah!) wreaths. There was no one tending the stand when I pulled up, but it was cold after all. I expected that the farmer was sipping coffee or cocoa inside one of the nearby businesses, watching for a customer like me to stop. And so I browsed. Yes, the wreaths there were just what I'd had in mind and I was ready to buy, but no clerk appeared. I looked at every wreath again. I looked at the trees. I grew impatient because the cold was overwhelming my wool coat and gloves.
And then I saw the note: If we aren't here, weigh your produce and leave money under the scales.
The world as we know it did not end. But maybe it moved a little closer to the world as it should be.