Mom and I grabbed a cart on our way from parking lot to grocery store. We passed through the automatic sliding doors together, cooled from the Texas heat by the immediate welcomed whoosh of AC.

A good way through our list, we saw her.

Bent over at the shoulder blades. Hair that shade of pinkish silver denial. Spotted hands on the crossbar of her shopping cart, pushing hard against it. Wrestling her way down the aisle in a losing battle against a wobbling stubborn wheel.

I passed by. But my mother? She stopped.

“Here,” she said,”take mine.”

She began lifting the woman’s groceries from her cart and placing them in ours. One after another. And, well, I couldn’t let me mom do all the work, could I? So there I was, nine years old, transferring a stranger’s toilet paper from one cart to another – and learning…

Compassion. Community. Service.

The woman thanked us again and again, grabbing my mother’s face with both palms in the end and pecking her on the cheek. And the squeaky wheel was ours—our problem then.

Compassion. Community. Service. Sacrifice.

I’m thirty-seven, and I still remember the regret of passing by, the urge to help, the woman’s smile and thanks when I did, the kiss goodbye.

Compassion. Community. Service. Sacrifice. And love? Yes, love.

There’s a lot to be taught from books and teachers in classrooms and houses of worship. But some things are best learned from mom on aisle nine. In the everydayness between errands on a lengthy to-do list. Character is learned right there.

Where sympathy becomes action. When time is made to make someone else’s problem ours. When the weak receive a bit of our strength. When a stranger is treated as we would want to be if the wheel was on the other cart.

What did your mom or dad teach you well by example? What is your example teaching your own children?