Patience. One at a time.

Sometimes I surprise myself, where I end up. It happened today. I left work, drove around for a bit and got it in my head to stop at the library. But not at my usual branch; this was a big deal! Our neighborhood library happens to be, per capita, the most heavily used library branch in the entire country. I don’t mean to brag, but I do take partial credit for this honor. For a reader who is also a cheapskate, libraries are a godsend. Don’t worry, I am working to balance my support of the library with a healthy habit at my local independent bookstore. I can’t imagine life without either.

As I was pulling into the parking lot, I saw a battered old Jeep pull up outside the grocery store next door. A small man jumped out and ran to get a couple of shopping carts. With his back to me, I could see the big US Army emblem on his jacket. He maneuvered the carts across the parking lot and opened up the back of the truck. As I stepped into the library I noticed him pulling box after box of plastic bottles out of the truck. He was working with great speed and purpose.

Some of the bottles

I didn’t stay in the library long. It was crowded and not that inviting, after all. I took one swing around the perimeter and the urge to browse passed. Once outside I saw that the man was still hard at work, feeding bottles into the bottle return machine. I had to walk right by him to get back to my car. “Wow,” I said. “That’s a lot of bottles.” The man smiled shyly. “Yes, ma’am. I’ve been saving ’em for a while. My friends gave me some, too.”

I asked how much he thought he would get for those and he said probably about seven dollars. I asked if he had any special plans for the money. “Food. I’m going over to my friend’s house to watch the big game and I want to bring something. Some chips or something.”

As we talked, he was steadily feeding bottles into the machine. I asked his name and he said, “Shawn. Shawn Quinn.” Then I saw it, written on the front of his jacket.

The machine seemed to get stuck and kept popping one of the bottles back out. I told Shawn I wanted to give him something and held out a folded up bill I had stuffed in my pocket. “Just a minute!” he said, and tore off toward the store. “Where are you going?” I yelled after him. “Be right back, ma’am!”

Sure enough, he came right back and said he had reported the problem with the machine to a worker in the store. I held the bill out again and he reached for it. He looked down and then looked at me. “Whoa,” he said. “That’ll work! Thank you, ma’am!”


He said I could take his picture but he wanted it taken by the library. “Even though I don’t have a library card.” He ran over to pose in front of the sign, then turned around so I could take a picture of the back of his jacket. It seemed about two sizes too big.

I asked where he had served. “Iraq,” he said. “And Germany.” I asked if he had gotten hurt and he said, “No, ma’am. My battalion was one of the lucky ones.”

The jacket seemed way too big for him

Shawn was having better luck with the bottle return machine, which was accepting the bottles now without problem. He thanked me again, smiling his shy smile, and then said, “I see how it is. You just gotta have patience. And do like the sign says. One at a time, one at a time.”

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9 Responses to One at a Time

  1. Pru McDonald says:

    As usual, Jill, your instincts seem to work overtime in choosing whom will share with, and again you seem
    to have hit the target! A small lesson with a HUGE impact that we can all take to heart: “One at a time…” One DAY at a time. Today, the only day we really have to make the most of LIFE. Pru

  2. Jill Neuwelt says:

    Love your new website, Jill!

  3. Michele says:

    Looks like we’re neighbors; that’s my library branch, too!

    I’m enjoying following your blog. The new design is great, too.

    • Jill Ginsberg says:

      We live in a great neighborhood. I’m glad you like the new site. Thank you so much for following! Jill

  4. Steph says:

    Everyone has a story. Sometimes I think we get too busy to remember that–too wraped up in our own life stories. Meeting the people on you blog has helped me remember we are all in this together; doing the best we can.

    Thank you for the reminder!

    • Jill Ginsberg says:

      That’s it exactly. I love the feeling of connecting with a total stranger; it reminds me every time what it means to be a human being. Thanks for reading.

  5. j. kathleen says:

    Dear Jill,
    Thank you for your vision. Today, I was overwhelmed, scattered, and not sure where to begin. Email, I thought…Email. And there you were, with your vivid portrayal of vulnerability, humanity and connection–all distilled to it’s keenest essence. And then like all good healers, you make a tincture that is much much more than the sum of it’s parts, and we, the reader, are healed…again. Thank you for your over whelming generosity and gentle wisdom. It makes a difference.

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