A wise immigrant’s story was told to me one day in line at Costco.
The said, and the unsaid left a stamp on me. I will be forever grateful, God put Sylvia in my path.
She had kind eyes despite the horror they had witnessed. She was joyful despite the hardship she endured. She was full of gratitude if even for the smallest thing. She laughed and talked of travel, hope and family. She had wisdom from the things she had learned and shared them with me, on a random Monday in July.
Just an ordinary day of grocery shopping, or so I thought
The hustle and bustle of Costco (even prior to covid) could make even the most calm of people get on edge.
Today was no exception. Not to mention we are smack in the middle of a pandemic. This has the people of the world like an over filled balloon…about to pop.
Truthfully I have had a lot of peace in all this chaos. Thanks to God who has given it to me. Though I’m still aware of the weary souls around me.
I pull into the parking lot on this beautiful Monday in July. I was pleased to see no lines outside, and plenty of open parking. This gives me a little hope for my shopping trip.
Prior to COVID 19 I loved grocery shopping
Prior to Covid 19, I LOVED going grocery shopping. Lately the state of society has attempted to squeeze the joy out of it. I try to always look for something to bring a smile to my face, even if nobody can see it.
I waltzed in and noticed long lines at check out. Not a huge surprise, despite the open spaces in the parking lot. I’m not deterred. Maybe years of visiting the happiest places on earth has helped me wait in lines with patience and ease.
I wound myself through the aisles, comparing some things I might want to spend birthday money on. Though I’m confident I won’t make a final decision, considering I’m not a compulsive shopper. Spying some necessities, I plop them in my cart, along with some fun looking food items. Taking my time amidst the rush of the day.
Joining the shortest of the long lines I settle in
When it was time to check out, I look to get in line. I notice every single one goes half way to the back of the store. I choose the line closest to the pharmacy.
Grabbing my phone I begin to research “InstaPot”, one of the items I’m considering with my birthday money. I know, I know, I’m way late to the InstaPot craze, but that’s just how I am.
My nose is in my phone and I hear someone say something
My face is in my phone, then I hear someone say something. I look up.
Standing in front of me, a tiny framed, silver haired woman catches my gaze. I realize she is talking to me. The mask over her face is muffling her a bit. But I focus in and politely ask her to repeat what she said.
She repeats how surprising it is for the lines to be so long. Especially on a random Monday, I agree with her. She continues with how she is still thankful, regardless of the lines.
Her story begins, what it’s like living in communism
I learn how she immigrated here from Hungary when she was 25. She tells me of how she felt growing up in a communist society. Her perceptive stories continue and I’m aware I’m going to learn something from her, a wise immigrant’s story.
She shares memories of soldiers hanging dead in the trees, rationed food that you had to wait in line for. Her Grandmother would send her out to wait in long lines, for a vary slim choice of food.
She says “At least we have options of what we can buy here. And this line we are waiting in, is in air conditioning, can you believe it! Despite this”. She smirks, as she pulls her mask from her face, then lets it snap back.
The world around us fades, as I take in the horrors she has experienced
As we talk I feel as though the bustle around us fades. We could be sitting in a quiet coffee shop not a warehouse store amid a Pandemic.
Gleaning from her insight, she tells me how hard and oppressive it was growing up in a communist society. It’s why she came here and is so grateful she did.
It’s clear she is a praying woman. Her prayers are fervent against any sort of oppression like that ever coming here. Now her eyes are a bit glassy. I assure her we are praying too.
We have a friend who is from Turkmenistan, I tell her. Who is now an American citizen; gulping hard she immediately does the Catholic cross over her chest.
Giving a wary response, she has a look in her eyes. Understanding, what it means to suffer under dictatorship.
She is proud of her years, and the hardship hasn’t poisoned her
Proudly she says “I’m 73 now”, then asks if I’m from Germany or the Netherlands; I let her know my Grandmother, on my Mom’s side was German, and my Dad’s side is all Dutch. She nods her head in satisfaction, nailing my heritage, despite half my face being covered.
I tell her I just turned 37, and I don’t mind birthdays, or getting older for that matter. Though I can clearly see her glimmering locks, she admits her hair is all silver now. I can sense she’s earned it and is proud of it even. “My son (who is near my husband’s age) is starting to see silver too”, she says. I share how my husband has a few show up every now and again.
My heart is so full and I feel like an old friend
My heart is full as we talk about life. The subtle accent she speaks with, does not make her hard for me to understand. After years of working as an acrobat, we have many immigrant friends from many different countries. All with stories of their own
She warns me of the invisible enemy
Most every time she begins to speak, she pulls her mask out. Giving me a peak at her warm smile. She tells me we are in World War 3 right now, “there is an invisible enemy”, she says. It’s clear she is not talking about the virus.
So many people all over the world experiencing this. So much fear and division, battling each other over it.
“They didn’t even need to use guns to make everyone afraid”.
shrugging her shoulders she creeps her basket forward, filling the space ahead.
We are interrupted by yelling
This wise immigrant’s story is interrupted as we hear yelling behind us. It catches our attention and pulls us briefly back to reality.
Someone tried to cut in line. And is now yelling in a language other than English, at the person who didn’t let them in. The not so stealthy line cutters continue to yell back. As they pass by the line to access the aisle to lead them to their appropriate place.
As he is walking by us yelling, she says, “Oh, be quiet”, only loud enough for me to hear. The tone in her voice suggests a perspective he obviously hasn’t had the opportunity to view.
We are almost to the front, I can’t believe how fast time has gone
We are now nearing where you can actually choose a lane to line up in. I take the lane next to her so we can still keep talking.
She asks me if I have children. I tell her we have been married for 18 years and have never felt like God called us too. I also tell her we have always traveled for work together.
She tells me children are a blessing. But how two of her Aunties along with her Godmother never had children. They were very happy in their marriages, and all made a stamp on her life.
Moving closer. Now only one person ahead of each of us. We near the register, and yet we keep the thoughtful conversation going. I’m filled with gratitude for this wise immigrant and her story.
She loves to travel too. Her sister lives in Scotland now, and her son took her to visit for Christmas. She tells me I must visit Scotland, especially at Christmas, I tell her I hope to!
her name is Sylvia, I learn
I ask her name. “Sylvia” she says, with a glimmer in her eye, as she places her hand gently over her heart. Introducing myself, she comments on how beautiful my name is. I tell her, I was named after my Grandmother, who was named after her Grandmother.
She pulls her mask out again revealing her smile. Her sweet appreciation of my knowing and being proud of my family history is apparent.
Both of us got called up to present our membership cards and pay for our groceries. The line is moving so fast I can’t believe it.
My checker finishes first. “Sylvia”, I say. Gracefully she turns. I thank her and tell her how I enjoyed our conversation, how lovely it was to meet her.
She Sweetly, once again laid her hand over her heart, and said, “It was lovely to meet you too, God Bless you Caroline”.
I turn and walk back out into the hustle and bustle of Costco, and the day.
What I took away from my time with Sylvia
I’m so grateful to have heard her perspective, a wise immigrant’s story. She has gone through and seen so much. Yet, with such kind eyes and a sweet smile. Her grace and beauty shone through. Despite having every reason to be hardened and bitter, she wasn’t. She was full of gratitude, she obviously trusts God and could truly see the beauty in life.
Like her, I will continue to pray our country never steps into the oppression of communism; also like her, I will choose to focus on the Blessings and learn from the hardships.
I pray any hardship or turmoil I walk through makes me more grateful and more kind. I will always remember how a wise immigrant’s story impacted me. On a regular day in the grocery store, when I least expected it.
A verse comes to mind when I think about Sylvia.
Proverbs 31:25 Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness.
You can read here about our experience in Hong Kong. The hardships they are facing today and why we need to pray for them!