When I was 13 years old, I traveled to the Dominican Republic with friends of my family. I had the opportunity to stay there for a month, away from the tourist area in the country side of tropical paradise. A neighbor lady found out that my mother liked fresh milk, every morning the woman would bring over a jug a fresh cow’s milk, the gesture was humble and endearing. I would look out and see her come into the maids entrance, taking off her shoes before walking past the first step, quietly her little feet would hurry her to the kitchen counter and gently the pitcher would land on the marble top. I would run from my room to come out and greet her, I wanted to talk to her – to thank her for her kind gesture to my mother and befriend her. Her shabby appearance, her coyness made me curious about her. Who was she? What was she like as a child? Why won’t she talk to me? I would smile and start to speak to her in her language, her hands would go up gesturing that she was leaving, almost apologetically for being there. I could hear her feet scurrying her away, down the first step and a slight pause to slip on her shoes and disappearing to the other side of the gated house.
Every morning, she would come in and I would come out until finally, one morning I stood on the side of steps with my shoes off. It was barely dawn when she would come into the compound, it was dark and the shadow of the house kept me a secret. The quiet tropical night held my presence by the door, it seemed almost euphoric how only the moon knew where I was. And then I heard rustling. She hurried in with the pitcher of warm milk for my mother and as she attempted to leave, I reached out and held her hand as she made her way down the steps and would not let it go, I could not hold back my curiosity, “I want to talk to you”, I didn’t let go of her hand, she mumbled and stuttered. She replied with an offer to leave, apologizing for her interrupting my standing in the dark, she wrung her hands nervously and excused herself. I asked for her name and demanded to know why she was always running away from me.
For the first time, our eyes met, she always had her head down and she finally looked up from her faded smock. The wrinkles around her eyes seemed to tell me some of her story, but I was thirteen and I wanted to know her name, where she grew up and why she took off her shoes. I didn’t know about “adult stuff”, a very naïve girl was curious about the shabby milk lady. I needed for her to sit down next to me and talk with me. She nodded and obliged, confused by my curiosity she talked and talked until the sun came up. The humble appearing woman told me she couldn’t read but by all accounts was amazing at numbers, she broke down her husband’s business sales like an MIT mathematician. I shared that I was horrible at math and was a book worm, our contrasts were significant by in large.
I learned a valuable lesson from my new friend, in that when you come from a place of humility you are always available to learn, but when you come from a place of pride you block teachable moments from your life. My wanting to speak to this woman wasn’t intended to be disrespectful, I wanted to know about her, make her my friend, express my gratitude for being so sweet to my mother and hear her story. Being a traveler I had been to different countries, but being a bookworm – I had traveled to galaxies. Her story grounded me for life like no other story did or ever could.
The shabby milk lady was no longer shabby at all – she glowed. Let us all have a moment that teaches us the value of humility. Big Hug!
A special shout out to Q for pushing me to post this experience!
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