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Mr. Harris Teeter Man 

After 14 months of healing, I'm ready for you, Mr. Harris Teeter Man. I'm talking about the man who told me one late evening to put my empty cart all the way back into the store. This was not a man who worked for Harris Teeter, but a shopper on his way in. You remember, Mr. Harris Teeter Man. You were pretty righteous. Stunned, I answered your order with a question, hoping you might soften and take the cart in for me: "You going that way?" (which you were), and you spat back at me, "It's not my cart!" And then you stood there and stared while I left the cart behind and climbed into my car and drove away.

Here's what I want to tell you, now that I'm myself again: That night, by the time I was unloading my groceries and deserting my cart, I could barely function; I was past exhausted. My day had gone like this (like months of days the same)--up at 5 a.m., a full day at the office, then home to feed, comfort and bathe my ailing mother, support my teenager on his homework assignment, wash the dishes, fix up a syringe for my mother's nighttime meds snack, and tuck her and her weakening mind into bed. A few chores, some laundry, and then finally, very late, a drive to the store to shop, which took over an hour as I sought out a week's supply of healthy food for a diabetic, two teenagers and myself.

You wouldn't have known any of this, and it really doesn't matter. Except that I've been reflecting, since my mother passed away soon after you and I faced off, on what that interchange of ours has taught us. I know that I, a regular goody-goody when it comes to manners, have now accepted that there are times when it's OK to be too tired to behave well--that there is a limit to energy, and that self-preservation can be useful in even the smallest ways. To have put the cart all the way back, or to have discussed this with you at all, could have laid me flat on the ground, so I did the right thing. I have also learned that we never know what burden others are quietly carrying, so it's good to act on the side of forgiveness and the generous gesture, just in case.

After reading this now, maybe you've learned something too, Mr. Harris Teeter Man. Perhaps since we encountered each other that night, you have even had the need to leave the cart out somewhere yourself. If so, I hope someone took it in for you, kindly.

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