Yesterday I went to Barnes and Noble to buy a copy of Little Women.  I’m reading it now to fill the gaping gap in my reading history.  I could’ve checked it out of the library, but B&N had just sent me a 20% off coupon, and the only thing better than browsing the library is browsing a bookstore.

It goes without saying I forgot to use the coupon.

The check-out line was unusually long because only one clerk manned the counter, a young girl who chatted up all the customers. When they asked how she was, she said “groovy” with an endearing earnestness.  She called out from behind the counter to the woman behind me.

“Are those the Vera Bradley coloring books?”

A bit startled, the woman behind me nodded.

“I love those,” the clerk said.  “They’re groovy.  Did you see the Vera Bradley colored pencils?”

This led to a spirited discussion among several people about the joys of adult coloring books. An older woman in front of me joined in, then told me how she let someone go in front of her because she’d gotten confused about where the line started.

“If I’m too stupid to figure out the line, I don’t deserve to get in front,” she told me good-naturedly. “But then again, at eighty, I guess it’s expected I’d get confused from time to time.”

She laughed with a twinkle in her eye, and I’m convinced she’s as sharp as ever. I told her as much, then advised she “play the eighty-year-old card when it suited her.”  She laughed and told me she did indeed.

The groovy girl at the checkout asked me to donate a kid’s book for a literacy charity, and though my knee-jerk reaction to all such requests is “no,” she charmed me into a “yes.”

I walked out of the store with the eighty-year-old woman, and she set the shoplifting alarm off. I joked that she looked like a suspicious character.  She told me she had an artificial knee that sometimes set off alarms.  We walked to our cars together and I told her about my late grandpa, who had metal pins in his hips that set off the metal detectors in airports.

We said goodbye and I got into my car, fired up the engine. On the radio, reporters told me, as they have for the past week and a half, how divided we are.  How we hate one another, how we’re not listening to one another.

But in that moment, I didn’t feel divided. I felt united with the young, enthusiastic check-out girl and the sassy old woman.  I felt close to my grandpa, taking a moment to remember him.

I turned the radio off. I drove home and threw away the day’s newspaper, turned off the internet.  That night I climbed into bed and started Little Women, and was instantly captivated by the four March girls.

I know now why I’d never read Little Women—I was meant to read it, right here, right now.  The coming-of-age story of four women during the Civil War and its aftermath, with its focus on family and love and friendship, is exactly the right book for me.

How lucky I am that I get to read it right now for the very first time.