They sat in the impersonal waiting area of the pharmacy, two 30-something women. Both brunette, both wearing leather jackets, and with very little else in common, on the surface.
One was somewhat overweight, with many worries about things like unemployment, children, friends, health, family… She made polite eye contact, willing to chat if someone else initiated, but spent most of her time inside her head, feeling flustered and overwhelmed, worrying about a dozen things, and generally feeling a little out of control, a little scared.
The other was thin, angular, with a constant stream of chatter about inconsequential things: the face on a magazine, the brightness of the lights, the weather. She was gregarious, in a manner most often associated with members of Alcoholics Anonymous and other self-help groups: an ability and willingness to share personal details, with strangers, without prompting. Not in an annoying way, just more forthcoming than the average waiting-room occupant.
Soon, the thinner woman noticed the other woman’s scarf. “Oh, that is gorgeous!” she exclaimed. “You made that, really? Was it hard? How did you learn? Where did you get the yarn? Would you ever consider selling something like that?” She had a stream of questions, and in between responses she shared her own lack of handknits, how she had always wanted to learn but never knew anyone to teach her, how she had recently moved to a new apartment because she had reached 90 days’ sobriety and was ready to stand on her own, how she loved bright colors, especially purple.
Her chatter could have been annoying, to some, but the other woman found it a welcome relief from her own dark and complicated thoughts. She appreciated this woman’s enthusiasm and candor, and hoped her long-term story would have a happy ending.
And it raised a possibility. She had long struggled to overcome a tendency toward impulsivity, but after thinking about it for a few seconds, she couldn’t come up with a reasonable and likely negative consequence. So she offered, before the opportunity faded: she told the woman she would make her a scarf. A bright purple scarf, because that’s her favorite color.
The woman was shocked. “Are you sure? Really sure? Because I could pay for that, I would totally pay however much it took, however long it took you. Really?” She wrote out her new address, and phone number too, just in case, and said “thank you” about a dozen times while walking out of the store.
The other woman remained behind, waiting for her prescription, and smiled a little. Impulsive, sure, especially since circumstances had arisen that essentially banned all new-yarn purchases for the foreseeable future. But it felt good. It felt right.
She told her husband about it that night, and he laughed at her a little, but he also understood. “You just needed to do something that felt positive, instead of wallowing in all of the rest of it.” He even went out and bought the yarn, a task which he had never previously undertaken, and indeed, he found a bright purple.
She knit it up, after several false starts and do-overs, in a simple reversible cable braid, surrounded by moss stitch. She included a little note, about how it was machine-washable, and then wrote, “I hope this makes you as happy to receive as it made me to make. I don’t want anything in return; just pay it forward, do something for someone else, when the chance arises.”
She packaged it up, and brought it to the post office. And sent it off, with no return address. And basked, for just a few moments, in the knowledge that optimism and kindness are not entirely out of the picture, even when sometimes it seems like they must be.