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Adele Elliott: Big box confessional

 

Adele Elliott

 

In Columbus a few stores fill many needs. Grocery stores sell lawn furniture and panty hose. Drug stores sell Halloween costumes and develop your photos. A Shell station has a dry cleaner drop-off inside. And, of course, there is almost one-stop-shopping at the gas/pharmacy/donut factory/convenience store. If they sold clothing, you would never need to go anywhere else. 

 

One big-box store really has all needs covered. There, you can buy everything to change your oil or your underwear. You can find hunting supplies, camo wear, fishing poles, lures and hooks. If that doesn''t snare a tasty meal, the same store has dinner for you and your pets. Nothing to cook your food in? Don''t worry. They have pots and dishes, and tables to set them on. 

 

What else could you possibly want? The answer is therapy, emotional support. If you play your cards right, psychiatric help is available in a retail setting. 

 

(Once a group of rogue healers noticed that I don''t walk very well -- arthritis. They asked if they could pray over my knees. So, I sat on the benches near the pharmacy department, while about six or seven teens tried to fix me with the help of Jesus. Unfortunately, I still suffer. Anyway, it was a nice gesture.) 

 

But, back to therapy. Although these conglomerate chain-stores discourage comfort, shoppers can sometimes find a hard bench to light on for a few minutes. This week I sat next to a woman who began to tell me her story. What can you do but listen? 

 

It was a sad tale that included two deaths, an on-job injury that resulted in disability, and her son''s extremely heartbreaking illness as a result of service in Afghanistan. This was the condensed version of just her last year. 

 

"I sent the Army my only child," she told me. "He was strong, handsome, with beautiful eyes. He was a boxer." 

 

I watched her expression change; her eyes seemed to focus on something far away. "They sent me back a boy who is not right. Half of his face is gone. His beautiful lashes are burned away. One leg is crippled." Then she added, "A mother always loves her child. No matter what condition he is in." 

 

It''s hard not to know what she meant. I couldn''t say, "I know how you feel." That cliché is meaningless. So, I just nodded. 

 

That bench, next to the bathrooms, became a sort of therapist''s couch. Shoppers passed us, not looking at her, or at me. Lost in their lives and destinations, they hurried home.  

 

It would be easy to guess that other people''s homes were somehow happier than this woman''s. I tried to imagine that they had undamaged children, and no pain so awful that it disabled them. I would probably have been wrong. These days, most of our lives are difficult. We travel a bumpy road of trouble and tedium, more lows than highs. 

 

When I got up to leave, she hugged me with all her strength, almost wouldn''t let me go. I was embarrassed when her huge round eyes fill with tears. I suppose no one ever listens to her. 

 

I would like to pat myself on the back, to convince myself that I am good, I listen. Maybe this is my time to hang up a shingle, a la the "Peanuts" character, Lucy. 

 

I walked into the steamy parking lot, holding hands with my husband. But, the self congratulation made me feel hollow. In spite of a very intimate connection, I didn''t even get her name. 

 

My prayer is that this woman finds the comfort that she needs. I hope that her solace comes in an environment that is welcoming and personal, and that she no longer needs to search for consolation in a fluorescent-lit confessional.

 

Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.

 

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