I want to tell you about my friend Jim. I've been thinking about him lately, almost daily, as I make myself a sandwich for lunch before going off to work. This Jim is not my funny, commenter friend Jim, so let me explain.
I live in a small town that has one of those little "boutique" supermarkets. It has almost everything you need, at twice the price and on most occasions, it suits my needs just fine. But as I said, it has almost everything. Every once in a while I need to travel over two towns to the big supermarket that has absolutely everything I need. Since I opened my store in September and I began all the construction mid-summer, I have been crazy busy enough not to be able to travel to the big supermarket since the fall. So two Sunday's ago I made the trip to the big supermarket. Upon entering, I did all the normal things that I do at said market, went through the produce, got what I needed and went over to the Deli. I got my number at the Deli counter, and then I looked for Jim.
Jim was an older gentleman who presided over the deli counter for years. His white hair, tucked neatly under the maroon baseball cap of his uniform, worked to set off the sparkle in his piercing, Irish, blue eyes. Jim was the jolliest of souls, always quick with a smile and a hello, and we got to know each other in those few, short exchanges we had over sliced Genoa Salami throughout the years. Jim knew me by name and I knew him by name. He would always start with a, "Hello Candace! What a pleasure it is to see you." I would return the pleasantries. We both loved the Red Sox, Celtics, Pats and B's, and I would always forgo my numbered turn until Jim was available to help me. I knew about his new car, and how proud of it he was, and he knew about my children and their recent triumphs.
Jim wasn't always working on the days I went to the big market, so I wasn't surprised at all last Sunday to find that Jim was not at the counter. There was a slew of young guns, manning the deli slicers, hurrying to get through the masses of customers. When it was my turn, I placed my order, then inquired, "Where's Jim? Is he off today?" The young man looked at me with a blank expression. "Jim?" he said. "I don't know any Jim." I looked over at the other younggin standing next to him and he said, "No Jim works here."
Huh???? Ok, I thought, rookies.
I then saw the two younggins whisper something to each other and then one turned to me and said, quite matter of factly, "I think Jim died."
"No..." was my immediate response, and my heart took on the weight of an anvil at that very moment. I was stunned and numb, but I continued on with my order, with a quiet sadness I was unable to avoid. As I thanked the young man, and proceeded to move on to the rest of the market a bit dumbfounded, a woman from the deli counter came from behind and approached me. She told me how Jim had died, that he had gotten sick and went quick. No suffering. She had gone to see him in the hospital and Jim told her that he wanted no one to cry for him. He was happy. I told her about the last time I had seen him, and how happy he was about his new car, and just about my brief but meaningful exchanges with Jim.Both of us stood in the center of the produce aisle, tears brimming in our eyes. Then I said, "You know, you never realize how someone touches your life until it's too late. Even at the deli counter in the supermarket and just for a few brief moments, but they have touched you."
I was so grateful to her for telling me Jim's story because although I didn't realize it then, I needed to know he was at peace when he went. And today, two weeks later, as I made my lunch for work, I thought of my friend Jim and decided to write this ode to him. Someone who I didn't know at all, really, but somehow Jim left an impression on me. As I wipe the tears from my eyes today, I ask you to quietly let someone in your life, no matter how big or small, know they matter. Before it's to late.
And somehow, I think Jim now knows that he mattered to me.