A few months ago, I shared the cosmetic aisle with an elderly woman and her almost elderly son. She was trying to select a lipstick and was dithering over the color map with great difficulty. Her son was being so patient, pointing out how the system worked: “The lipsticks are under here, all the lipsticks in this bin are this color.” He was quiet and gentle as he read off the names of the shades; the girlish phrases sounding ludicrous in his voice. Plus he didn’t look the type to be hanging around a cosmetics department.
His mother’s voice quivered, “What if I just want red?”
“Here’s a red one.”
“Are you sure that’s red?”
“How do you know it’s red.”
“See, it’s red and it’s called ‘True Red’”
“I don’t’ know how much it costs. I can’t figure it out..”
I couldn’t see him but I knew he was fumbling with the tube, unsure where to look for the price. The price is ridiculously hard to find even for a lipstick pro like me.
“Free today, Mom.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. They are never free.”
“Ok, it’s 4.99”
“No it’s 49.99 and I won’t pay that for a lipstick.”
There was a grain of impatience in his voice when he pointed out the price sticker and explained the numbers. I realized his mother suffered from dementia and this is a ritual they go probably through whenever he takes her shopping. Everything in the basket had been ruminated over and negotiated before a final decision was made. The idea of such a process made me tired and cranky just thinking about it. And yet, he remained completely patient and didn’t rush her.
My heart swelled. Tears swam in my eyes when I glanced up and saw the tender care he took guiding her down the aisle after she put the red lipstick in the basket. This man could have been doing any number of things on a Saturday afternoon but he chose to help his mother negotiate a world that had become too big and too confusing. And he helped her with the same sort of love and kindness she undoubtedly extended to him sixty years ago in the toy aisle of the five and dime.