Wednesday, December 29, 2010


A couple days ago, I was picking up my lunch at Planet Sub and overheard this at the register next to me:

"Anything else for you today, ma'am?"
"You don't have any aspirin back there, do you? I've got a splitting headache."
"No, sorry..."

I glanced over and saw the headache victim: a short lady with long blonde hair and a striped sweater. I opened my mouth to say "I've got some Advil!" because hey, what's the point of lugging around the entire contents of your bathroom cabinet if you can't help people out? But then I realized how shady that would be. "Hey, stranger, have some pills out of my purse! They're fine, I promise. Bwa ha haaaa."

So I closed my mouth, picked up my takeout bag and walked towards the door. I turned back around for a second and opened my mouth again, this time to say "The convenience store next door sells aspirin!" But again I stopped, and walked out the door instead. "It's none of your business," I told myself.

I was headed to that convenience store myself, since Planet Sub doesn't have Diet Mountain Dew, and as I filled up my fountain drink I replayed that scene in my head. She really did seem to be hurting. "But she's not helpless. She's a big girl," I thought. "She can find headache medicine without your help." But for some reason, I found myself walking to the first-aid display in the store and grabbing a couple packets of Advil. Even while I paid for them, the negative thoughts kept coming. "She's probably gone by now. She was just venting anyway. You don't do things like this! It'll be weird! She'll look at you funny! Stop it!!"

The voice in my head was right: I really don't do things like this. Way beyond my comfort zone. And yet there I was, walking back into the restaurant, Advil in hand. The woman was about to leave, but I marched up to her and said "Excuse me, are you the lady who had the headache?" Her emphatic "YES," along with her weary-looking eyes, indicated that it really was a bad one -- probably so bad that she didn't think to question why a total stranger was asking her about it.

"Merry Christmas," I said, handing her the packets of medicine.

Surprised, she began to smile, and thanked me. I wish I could say I smiled back and breezily tossed a "Hope you feel better!" over my shoulder, but I just looked at the floor and stammered something about the store next door, and um, yeah, so, before walking away.

Before I'd gotten 10 feet away, the negative thoughts started up again: "What if she's allergic to that brand? What if she doesn't celebrate Christmas? She's probably calling her friends right now to tell them about the nosy weirdo at Planet Sub."

But this time, it was easy to ignore that voice. I hadn't solved all the world's problems today, but I had tried to help a stranger with a headache. It was something. As I waited for the elevator back to my office, I sipped my drink, and I smiled.

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