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A Pocket Archive (15)


"Sometimes life gives you lemons" is an idiom that always makes me cringe. It's a bit like seeing all the "live, love, laugh" and "bless this mess" plaques when you go to Hobby Lobby: generic, saccharine, and overused to the point it means very little (especially given the ironic popularity of such phrases among superficial and or "mean girls"). A few weeks ago, however, I gained a new appreciation for it as life did indeed send me a very literal and unexpected gift in the form of Mr. Lemon, who I think may have been an angel in disguise.

I recently celebrated another 25th birthday (an inside joke between me and Irina) and it was probably the nicest one I that can remember, at least during my adult life. I had felt incredibly apprehensive about it, given what happened the year before and because there were so many days I sincerely doubted that I would make it to another one, even with the little soul that was so dependent on me (a safeguard I both treasured and resented).

A lot of the first few months of 2022 is fuzzy, but I vividly remember spending much of my birthday last year huddled on my kitchen floor in the space between the refrigerator and the kitchen cabinets, rocking back and forth on the loud, obnoxiously bright pink runner rug, trying to make myself as small as possible while I struggled to breathe, with a weak, horrible feeling of fragile hope mixed with fear still sputtering in my chest.  Between everything I was still struggling to process at the time and what felt like hundreds of horrifying uncertainties, I could barely function. I kept praying over and over for answers, and for for my pending appointment for a leukemia screening to come back clear, while simultaneously hoping it wouldn't so I wouldn't have to hurt anymore. Part of me wished I would disappear, or just go to sleep and never wake up again. Now, a little over a year later, I am very glad that I did. Still, I have enough self awareness at this point that I was careful to make sure I wouldn't be home alone this year, and I volunteered to work on my birthday instead of taking my scheduled day off. What I didn't expect, however, was the extrodanary thoughtfulness of a kind, elderly stranger.

Mr. Lemon must have been around my grandfather's age, if not a little older. He was dressed in a thick, red flannel shirt, with an Elmer Fudd cap crowning his sparse, snowy hair. He must have been tall once, but now had a stooped back, and a wide, dentured smile. His voice was surprisingly soft for someone who could no longer hear well, and his large, rectangular glasses made his eyes look enormous, almost like an owl's. He'd had a morning appointment, and I spent several minutes talking with him, both in the waiting room and while I was finishing his paperwork. During that conversation, one of my coworkers made a teasing remark about me volunteering to work on my birthday the next day, which must habe caught his attention. As Mr. Lemon was signing his receipt, he flashed a wide, toothy smile, asked some related question, then made what I assumed was a joke about bringing me a birthday cake. He left and I thought nothing of it. A little over an hour later, however, he came back. He didn't say much, just grinned again and quietly wished me a happy birthday as he handed me the large plastic container, and, with a speed unnatural for his age, disappeared again so suddenly that I'm not sure the words "thank you" had made it all the way out of my mouth.

I have never liked cake, but it was the sweetest thing I've ever eaten. It was a simple but beautiful pastry, with white whipped cream icing and little roses made from chocolate shavings. It was still cold from being in a freezer, and had bits of ice clinging to the plastic covering. I remember holding it and just staring like an idiot, trying not to burst into tears, though I eventually did anyways. It was so kind. Part of me wonders if he wasn't an angel, but I think he was just a nice person, and sometimes God uses people for little miracles.

I haven't seen Mr. Lemon since then, but I still think about him sometimes, and I hope he's well. Hopefully I'll see him again. If not, then I hope that wherever he is, life is treating him well and that he's received adequate blessings in return for his kindness. We need more people like him in this world. One kind act can be all it takes to keep someone off the edge and to restore their hope in humanity.

Life will always be worth living as long as there are Lemons in it.


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