There’s a Family Dollar on the way to my gym. I stop there often on my way to work out to buy an energy drink. The store is bright, cheery and cheap — and today it is packed with Valentine’s merchandise.
I’m checking out, chatting away with the cheery, young manager, when a stranger — a somewhat shy and shambly middle-aged gentleman — approaches the register. He’s wearing a plaid flannel jacket and a knit hat, and he’s holding a Valentine card.
“Excuse me,” he says.
I step back, figuring he wants to ask the manager something. But no, he wants to talk to me. He needs some Valentine advice, he says, from a woman.
“I’m your woman!” I say.
Valentine Man hands me his card, asks me to read it. I do. The card is very sweet. I say as much. But still, he leans toward me, anxious for clarity. “Is it something I could give to a woman and not have her think I’m — you know — that I have ideas about her?”
“You mean, would she read this card and think you’re hitting on her?” I ask
He nods vigorously. “Yeah. You know, that I want us to be something other than — than just friends.”
I reread the card, consider its message seriously from my woman’s point-of-view. “I wouldn’t get any kind of come-on from this,” I say. “But then I have lots of men friends. You know what you could do is write a message on it saying how much you value her friendship. That would make your intentions really, really clear.”
Of course, the cheerful young manager has been listening. “That’s a good idea!” he says with enthusiasm.
Valentine Man looks relieved. “Okay then!” He smiles a beautiful, sunny smile that lights up his whole face — the whole store, for that matter. “You know, I walked all over this place looking for a woman to give me advice, and there wasn’t a one, and then I saw you!”
“I’m honored to help,” I say. “And if you end up not giving this card to your friend, you can give it to me.”
The three of us — Valentine Man in his knit cap, the cheerful young manager, and me — we are all beaming now.
I leave the store full of small, good feelings. You know, the kind that come from a sharpened awareness that all us humans are in this life together, and that our days are so much more fun when we stop for a moment to enjoy each other’s presence.