Has a stranger at Home Depot ever told you that you matter?
Well, it happened to me.
And it made a difficult day better.
I've pretty much been living at my parents' house for the last month or so. At first, it was to help care for my Dad, and then to be closer to the hospice center, and then to be with my Dad for his final days at home.
Now, my mom and I are glad to have each other's company. The idea of us each working all day at our respective home-studios, alone, just hasn't felt doable yet. Also, people are cooking me meals here and that's pretty magical and hard to peel away from, so there's that (I promise I'm a grown adult).
But this story is from a few weeks ago, when my Dad was in the hospice center, about 45 minutes away. We were tag-teaming our time with him, driving back and forth. I had just spent four nights in a row there and was running on adrenaline. In the middle of all this, I knew I needed to take photos of our Valentine's collection. I didn't have any plywood backdrops for photos at my parents' house, so I went to Home Depot.
In the past, this was the kind of task my Dad would do with me (because he was awesome, and Home Depot was his fav).
I find the 8' plywood panels easily, but since I'm picky (no one is surprised), I need to look through my options to find the Best One. You know, not too many knots, not too much bizarre discoloring, just a little bit of visual texture and whooshiness (highly technical term) in the grain pattern.
The first one isn't great. The second one is worse.
I soon find myself pulling down piece after piece, hoping no one will mind or laugh at me.
Up walks Demetrius, a Home Depot employee offering to help. I apologize for making a mess and being suuuuper picky, but once I explain that it's for a photo backdrop, he says, "I get it. Let's look through them together!"
Demetrius proceeds to help me pull down *every* *single* *piece* of plywood in the stack. He listens to my goal, helps me set aside the "strong maybes" and is so, so patient with me in my indecision.
My Dad is dying, and I need a perfect piece of plywood. The Best One.
Demetrius and I jokingly compare the pattern on one to the famous "Creation of Adam" painting in the Sistene Chapel -- two grain marks look as though they are mimicking "the touch."
He won't let me feel bad about making a mess. He says he will put them all back himself and that I don't need to worry about it. When I finally make up my mind (a small miracle) he takes my piece to the cutting station to have it cut in half. He accompanies me to check-out, scans the plywood, and then carries it to my car.
After loading it in my car (it fits: another small miracle), he asks me: "Besides this important plywood decision, how is the rest of your day going?"
Goodness, y'all, how did he know?
Without wanting to unleash all the weight of anxiety and grief I was feeling on this unsuspecting, kind, generous stranger who had just helped me, I explain to him that it was not the best of days. That my dad is dying. That he loves this Home Depot and would always bring the dog with him when he shopped there. That Demetrius's kindness, patience, and service means more to me than I could put into words.
He says, "Hold on. I think I have one more of these left in my wallet."
He pulls out a card that says "YOU MATTER."
"I want you to have this. Or give it to your Dad."
I thank him and give him a hug. Then I get in my car and proceed to cry like a baby.
But really, how did he know? How can we ever know what impact the smallest act of kindness will have on a stranger? Demetrius was the angel I needed on a difficult day. Once I got home, I called Home Depot to brag on him to his boss (seemed like the least I could do).
But I realized I could do more. I could share this story.
I want you to know that YOU MATTER. Maybe you're wandering the aisles of Home Depot (or, you know, life), lost and confused and overwhelmed. Maybe you're dealing with loss or illness. Maybe you just feel insignificant or alone.
But I want you to know that YOU MATTER -- your voice matters, your actions matter. Every kind word, every selfless gesture, however small, has an impact with ripples you may never know about.
So let's treat each person we meet like they matter. Because they do too.