Extra Ordinary

by David McLaughlan
Ayrshire, Scotland

It was just another nothing much kind of day, in January 2009. I’d done a little shopping and was walking home with nothing much on my to-do list. I overtook a wee old lady. To be honest, she hardly registered on my radar. Just another ordinary old lady.

Extra OrdinaryThen she carefully sat one of her shopping bags down, straightened up and took a deep breath. The bag held a big box of soap powder. I could’ve carried it all day without noticing, but she hadn’t made it fifty yards from the shop before stopping.

I walked past… then turned back and asked if she needed a hand. She explained that normally she had a shopping cart and the box wouldn’t have been a problem. But as she hadn’t much money, the soap was too good a bargain to miss.

While she explained I picked up the bag and we started walking. I asked her where she was going then lied and said it was exactly on my way.

A few steps along I realized I had to walk really slowly so not to tire her out – which gave us plenty of time to chat. But what would we talk about?

She said she was 92 in a month. Then said she was retired from The Salvation Army. She’d joined as a teenager, met her husband, her only love, at the Army College. Then they’d set out on a life of service together. She talked about the work in poor, inner-city areas. How her husband had died suddenly thirty years ago while they were both out doing the good work.

She had so looked forward to growing old with him, and didn’t understand why it happened, but was absolutely sure it was part of the bigger plan.

Wow! As I listened, my admiration grew.

I walked her to her door, despite her protests that it must be out of my way. There Mrs Thompson and I introduced ourselves and shook hands. I said it was a real pleasure to meet her. She said when I stopped she saw I had a good face.

Walking away, so much ran through my mind. I was touched she’d said I had a good face. I know only too well how badly my heart would fare if held up to public inspection, so if my face looked good that’s a step in the right direction.

It was an honor to have helped her.

Then I remembered how, only minutes before, I had thought of her as just another ordinary old lady. How wrong I had been! The more I get to know people, the more I hear their stories, the more I come to realize there is no such thing as an ordinary person.

Mrs Thompson, thank you for helping me!

Originally published as HeroicStories #775 on Oct 2, 2009

3 thoughts on “Extra Ordinary”

  1. For me, the important part of this story is not the story of Mrs. Thompson and the heartbreak of her one love dying so young. No, it is the fact that we all need to be like Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, and search for ways to serve others, as we can, in an organized way. Yes,, every little act of kindness makes the world better, but living an intentional life seeking out service to others will help us to be more like them. And one day when we are old an tottering, some younger person can come and help us, and want to be more like the Thompsons by being more like us.

  2. What we should try and remember is that the Mrs Thompsons of this world do not see themselves as extra-ordinary. They are just doing what they feel is the right thing. Many of them tend to get uncomfortable and embarrassed when people tell them they are special. If pressed they’ll tell you, with complete sincerity, ‘Anyone could have done it.’

    But we know that many people wouldn’t. There’s a difference between could and would. Being too busy is a popular and socially acceptable excuse for ‘walking by on the other side’.

    So thank them sincerely, but don’t lay it on too thick or for too long. Allow them the comfort of feeling normal. I suspect this is particularly relevant when they aren’t operating behind the reason/excuse/justification of a specific religion or cause but are ‘just doing the right thing’. They’d much rather you just did the same occasionally, as and when you can, than singled them out as ‘godly’ or whatever.


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