I’m back, for now…
Ali is “just a worker,” stocking the big freezers in Sam’s Club here in Bismarck. One day this spring or early summer, my kids “discovered” him stocking the freezers and were fascinated by the “man in the freezer.” Ali came out and humored my kids by introducing himself to them. Since that day, my kids love to go to Sam’s and search the coolers for Ali, and Ali loves it too. I have never met Ali, but whenever I come home from work on a “Sam’s Club Day,” all I hear about for the first few minutes is the kids’ interaction with Ali. Seeing Ali is the highlight of my kids’ trips to Sam’s…and remember, this is a store that routinely has free samples.
What became more obvious over the past few months as my children, my wife and Ali all warmed to each other was how my kids have become the highlight of Ali’s days at work as well. He has told the kids numerous times he missed them, was waiting for them and how happy they make him. For my oldest son’s 4th birthday, Ali presented him with a hand-painted canvas picture.
This kindness surprised my wife and Ali disclosed to her the fact that he is a widower and a single father of an eleven-year-old son; an Iraqi immigrant from southern Iraq whose wife died a few years ago. Ali was educated at the University of Colorado and left Iraq with his wife and son for a better life. He said that he was an artist, but since his wife has died he doesn’t paint much anymore. He only paints when he sees things that bring him joy and make him happy – like my children. This revelation touched my wife and I.
More recently, Ali hadn’t been at work – which left some disappointed kids on Sam’s Club days. Earlier this month, Ali returned to work and we learned that Ali’s wife had died of kidney failure and Ali too has a failing kidney that will need to be removed next week. My wife has asked him if there’s anything we can do for him and he said he doesn’t think there is, but we assured him of our prayers, which he said was the best thing we could do.
Ali also remarked to my wife how he’s “just a worker” to so many people, but how our kids make him feel special. Our kids, most kids really, have a unique ability to do that. Gone are shrouds of suspicion, prejudice and pretense. Yesterday’s saint of the day, Pope John Paul the Great, once said, “the ‘little ones,’ according to the gospel, are those know they are God’s creatures and shun all presumption.” The way my kids have treated Ali reminded me of Pope Francis’ condemnation of the “throwaway culture” where “often human beings themselves…are discarded as ‘unnecessary.'” Though a foreigner and a follower of a different faith, Ali is not “just a worker,” and my kids “shun all presumption” and see the person himself. I can’t take any credit for that, but it has expanded my horizons and reminded me that it is important how you treat those in your own community.
I don’ t know when, or even if, Ali will return to work after his surgery. Maybe he’s unnecessary to Sam’s Club but I hope not, because there are three little kids in Mandan who can’t wait to see their special friend, the man in the freezer every week. And the love they show him is more valuable than the food he stocks.
If you think of it, please say a prayer for the success of Ali’s surgery and his recovery. And when your kids want to slow you down and say hi to the guy stocking the shelves, let them.
I accompanied the kids and Maggie to Sam’s today, the kids bearing homemade get well soon cards for Ali, singing his name through the store and skipping past every aisle to see their friend. They found him and presented him with their cards and he presented my daughter with a birthday present:
He said it will take 6-8 weeks to recover from Tuesday’s surgery and he plans on being back to work in 6 weeks. Pray all goes well!