You can tell it’s the flu season. DayQuil is flying off the shelves like it has wings, and suddenly people are acting with this incredible generosity — sharing their bodily fluids with us all in arching streams of flying globules every time they sneeze or cough. True altruists, they make no effort to hoard their treasures or block our access to them, coughing uninhibited by hand or arm, sneezing as though it were an Olympic event, going for the glory in maximum volume, distance and splatter area.
You know who I mean.
You hear them before you see them, and they seem to especially love the grocery store at this time of year, wandering among the fresh fruit and vegetables, spreading the love and touching every piece of produce. Though you shouldn’t get your hopes up too high: since they never seem to wipe their noses except on their sleeves, their hands are probably remarkably clean.
Now I’m not talking about the folks who selfishly hoard their fluids, clutching their wadded-up tissues or grabbing at paper towels provided in the produce or meat sections; I’m not talking about those hoarders who buy a fresh box of tissues just to be able to open it now, or who furtively cough into their hand, down into the neck of their sweater, or into the crook of their arm, as though they’re trying to keep it secret from the rest of us. I don’t know what ‘s up with these people; their mothers must not have taught them right — they don’t know the first thing about sharing.
No, I’m talking about those generous souls who want to make sure that we all get a piece of the action. They never pick unless they flick — or wipe thoughtfully on the underside of handles, giving all who come behind them the thrill of that unexpected encounter with riches.
You know who you are.
There was this especially openhearted soul in the grocery store the other day. When her wet, hacking, cough boomed forth, it echoed off the shelves and the warehouse ceilings, so you couldn’t tell which direction it was coming from — until it was right behind you. I turned and there she was, holding a freshly sprayed can and squinting at the label. “Can you help me,” she rasped, waving the can inches from my face. ” I want the kind without added salt.”
I backed up and pointed quickly to another set of cans on the shelf nearby, then watched in mute admiration as she replaced her treasure on the shelf. “You sure?” she asked, with that sharp, interrupted intake of breath that precedes a new spew.
I nodded dumbly, turned and fled. My mother taught me never to take more than my share.
But this generous lady was determined. No matter how I altered my usual path through the aisles, I’d turn a corner, and there she’d be, coming straight for me. I’ve never seen such charity.
Frankly, I was inspired. Turning onto one aisle, I found her unexpectedly in front of me, going the other direction, unfazed and walking tall as she coughed her way down the aisle, oblivious to her generosity. A particularly guttural and moist donation made me realize that in her charity, she’d gone just a little too far. I chased after her, calling out, “Wait, I think you dropped something. I think it might be a piece of your lung.”
She didn’t miss a step, or a moment’s largesse. Feeling utterly inadequate in the face of such charity, I admitted defeat, turned around and went to the checkout, leaving the rest of my shopping for another day.
And now, my dear reader, I hang my head and admit that I am one of those selfish hoarders. I’ve always noted this special season of joy, tucking folded tissues in my kids’ pockets, telling them constantly: “Catch your cough.” “Wash your hands.” “Blow your nose.” “Hand sanitizer is over there.” “Excuse me?” “Wash that can before you open it; you never know where it’s been.”
A bad mother, I teach my children to be hoarders, too, but I do try to draw the line at accepting charity from others, especially when we have an abundance of our own.
© Sharon McCoy 24 January 2013