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In the early dictation of A Course in Miracles, the miracle is depicted as an “expression of love” extended by a miracle worker to a miracle receiver, an expression that often takes the form of a seemingly small act of kindness. This expression of love heals the mind of the receiver, but it doesn’t stop there: It then extends beyond the initial receiver to bless countless others—indeed, in the end, it is miracles that save the world. What does this look like in everyday life? I’d like to tell the story of Ishmael Gilbert.
This wonderful story was passed on to me by my colleague Robert Perry. Gilbert is a young man who earlier this year was working as a cashier at a Target store in Glendale, Indiana. One day, he encountered an elderly woman in his checkout line who seemed bent on doing things the hard way. (As a former retail clerk, I’ve had many experiences like this.) Specifically, she pulled out a hoard of coins and wanted to pay for each of her items one at a time, holding up the line. Right behind her was Sarah Bigler, a working mother with two children in tow, who had hoped to simply dash into Target to grab a few needed items on her way home from work. Now she would be delayed, and she was initially irritated at the woman for her strange behavior.
But Gilbert saw the situation differently. Instead of an irritating old woman, he saw a beloved member of the family—as he put it in a later interview, “I just treated her, really, like she was my grandma, to be honest.” The woman saw that she was holding up the line and was herself distressed as a result, but Gilbert was a paragon of patience. He comforted her, assured her that she had no need to apologize, and patiently completed the transaction. His gentle kindness eased the old woman’s distress, and in Gilbert’s eyes, that made everything worth it: “She’s not the fastest, [but] I’m not going to huff and puff and make her feel even more frustrated. I just helped her out and actually seen a smile on her face. So, that was the best part about it.”
In the process, Gilbert eased Bigler’s irritation as well; as the article I’ve linked above puts it, she “experienced a shift in perspective as she watched Gilbert treat the elderly woman with compassion.” In a later Facebook post (accompanied by a photo of the encounter that she felt inspired to take—a photo I’ve included above), Bigler describes that shift:
Part of me, the part that had a long day at work, the part of me who had a 1 1/2 year old having a melt down in the cart, the part that had set an unnecessary timeline for Target and getting home, was frustrated with this woman and the inconvenience she had placed on me.
BUT then I watched the young employee with this woman. I watched him help her count her change, ever so tenderly taking it from her shaking hands. I listened to him repeatedly saying “yes, mam” to her. When she asked if she had enough to buy a reusable bag, he told her she did and went two lines over to get one for her and then repackaged her items. Never once did this employee huff, gruff or roll his eyes. He was nothing but patient and kind.
Moreover, Bigler saw the effect this was having on her daughter, Eloise, and realized what a wonderful teaching moment this was for everyone involved:
As I was watching him, I saw that Eloise was too. She was standing next to the woman, watching the employee count the change. I realized I hadn’t been inconvenienced at all. That my daughter was instead witnessing kindness and patience and being taught this valuable lesson by a complete stranger; furthermore, I realized that I too needed a refresher on this lesson.
Finally, she was blessed by Gilbert’s kindness toward her when it was finally her turn to be helped. She expressed her gratitude to him, but she didn’t stop there. Her gratitude overflowed to the point that she felt inspired to spread the world—first informing the Target manager, and then sharing her experience with everyone through her Facebook post:
When the woman was finished, the employee began ringing up my items and thanked me for my patience. I then thanked him for teaching us patience and kindness by his treatment of that elderly woman. And although my timeline for target was askew, when he was finished I pushed my cart through the store trying to find the manager. I wanted her to know of the employee’s, kindness and patience, and how much it meant to me. After tracking her down and sharing the story with her, we left Target with a cart full of consumable items, but what is more a heart full of gratitude for such an invaluable lesson.
If you are ever in the Glendale Target, give Ishmael a smile and a nod. The world could use more people like him.
From there, the story went viral. For a while, Gilbert was the center of media attention. Even after that attention faded, he continued to get fan mail, and people from other states would come into the Target for a handshake and picture with the now-famous Good Samaritan. And eventually, another person came in who ended up changing his life. This person, the manager of a local dialysis center, got her own glimpse of this miracle worker in action:
“I was helping out, once again, another customer,” Gilbert says. “[The dialysis center manager] saw me do the same thing also, and when she came to my line, she was like, ‘Hey, I like what you just did with her. That’s really good customer service.’ And she asked me, ‘What did you want to do in life?”
Long story short, she offered Gilbert a job at the dialysis center. In his interview, he was even asked to share his story with other managers at the center: “They said that they can really use [my approach to customers] at the clinic.” He is now happily working there, and the center is paying for his schooling as he works toward his goal of becoming a registered nurse. Gilbert is grateful for everything that has happened to him; indeed, he feels that he himself has been blessed in ways that he could never have brought about on his initiative alone: “When blessings come my way, I say sometimes it’s not always good to ask why. Sometimes, just take them as they come….Let it happen. It happens for a reason.”
On the surface, what Ishmael Gilbert did looks so ordinary: He was nice to a customer at his store. But to me, this is a textbook example of the miracle as described in the early dictation of the Course. It started with Gilbert’s vision of this elderly woman as something much more than an annoyingly slow customer. In his eyes, she was like his grandmother, a member of his own family—a part of what the Course at one point calls “the family of God” (T-1.V.4:1). All indications suggest that Gilbert was in a state that the Course calls “miracle-mindedness” (T-2.V.3:1), a state of mind from which he could extend miracles to others. As the Course says, “Miracles arise from a miraculous state of mind, or a state of miracle-readiness” (T-1.I.43:1).
This readiness led directly to what the early dictation calls “miracle-doing” (Urtext): Gilbert extended a miracle, an expression of love, to the elderly woman. Again, it didn’t look like anything spectacular; it was simply being kind and courteous to her. But though we often think of miracles as dramatic events like healing the sick or raising the dead, the Course material makes clear that they often take far more mundane forms-like, for instance, Helen visiting her mother-in-law. Indeed, simple courtesy like the kind Gilbert extended to the woman is extolled as a high virtue in that early dictation: “There are ways of treating others in which only consistent courtesy, even in very little things, is offered. This is a very healing habit to acquire” (Urtext). Just gently helping that woman count her coins, then, was a miracle.
The miracle worker’s miracle is meant to heal the miracle receiver’s mind—it is “a device for perception correction” (T-1.I.49:2)—and it certainly looks like Gilbert’s expression of love accomplished that in this case. After all, at the beginning of the transaction the woman was flustered and distressed because she knew she was holding up the line (and could perhaps sense Bigler’s initial irritation), but by the end of the transaction she had a smile on her face. Gilbert’s loving perception of her, expressed in his kindness and courtesy, led directly to her having a more loving perception of herself.
Needless to say, this miraculous transformation of perception did not stop with the elderly woman. It extended as well to at least two people who directly witnessed Gilbert’s miracle and the effect it had: Sarah Bigler and her daughter, Eloise. As the article says, Bigler “experienced a shift in perspective as she watched Gilbert treat the elderly woman with compassion.” She who had initially been irritated at the delay caused by this slow woman was now touched by the love of the young man who was kindly helping this woman (and touched as well by his kind treatment of her after he was finished with the woman). She realized that Gilbert’s demonstration was a needed lesson for her, and that her daughter too was receiving a priceless gift just by watching him in action: “my daughter was…witnessing kindness and patience and being taught this valuable lesson by a complete stranger.”
Then Bigler, God bless her, kept this miraculous extension going by sharing the story with others. She started by singing Gilbert’s praises to the Target manager, and continued with that deeply moving Facebook post. In my mind, her sharing of the story is a miracle in its own right. After all, in the early dictation of the Course, Jesus calls psychic Jeane Dixon’s inspirational instruction to keep your “feet on the ground and fingertips in the Heaven” a miracle (Urtext). I think an inspirational Facebook post written by someone whose heart was deeply touched by love is something he would probably put in the same category.
Indeed, as we’ve seen, thanks to Bigler the whole story went viral. Miracles “come to bless” (W-pII.13.3:3), and once they get started, they don’t stop. Gilbert’s miracle blessed the elderly woman who received it, this blessed Bigler enough to inspire her to write the Facebook post, this blessed enough people to inspire press coverage, this blessed at least some people enough that they came from other states just to shake Gilbert’s hand, and God only knows how many more people have been blessed that we’ll never hear about. As I contemplate this chain of events, I cannot help but think of one of my favorite miracle principles from the Course: “A miracle is never lost. It may touch many people you have not even met, and produce undreamed of changes in situations of which you are not even aware” (T-1.I.45:1-2).
Finally, Gilbert’s miracle not only blessed those countless people to whom it extended, but came full circle to bless Gilbert himself. As the Course says, “That the miracle may have effects on your brothers that you may not recognize is not your concern. The miracle will always bless you” (T-1.III.8:1-2). Of course, the biggest blessing he received-“the best part about it,” in his words—was the deep happiness that came simply from bringing a smile to that elderly woman’s face. But in addition, of course, his miracle brought him to the attention of the dialysis center manager, which led directly to an entirely new career path opening up to him. I can only imagine the further miracles that will extend from him and return to him as he embarks on a nursing career. We don’t know what the future holds, but as Gilbert says, when blessings come your way, “Let it happen. It happens for a reason.”
What are the ultimate ramifications of this event and the many others like it that happen every day? We’ve seen here how the miracle starts with one miracle worker extending an expression of love to another person, but then the miracle extends outward farther and farther, at the same time blessing the original miracle worker himself. Where does this process stop? It doesn’t. As Robert shared in a recent Circle class, miracles set in motion a “ripple effect” that will ultimately save the entire world. Because extending miracles to other people “makes it inevitable that they will extend them to others, a strong chain of Atonement is welded” (T-1.III.9:2). Through this process, “Awakening runs easily and gladly through the Kingdom, in answer to the Call for God” (T-8.II.8:5). Salvation is come.
Thanks, then, to you—Ishmael Gilbert, miracle worker. The world can certainly use more people like you. Thanks as well to all who brought this story to me. I am grateful to you all for doing your part in welding this chain of Atonement and sending awakening through the Kingdom. So many people have been blessed by this seemingly small but ultimately world-changing expression of love from a kind young man to his “grandma” in need. I have certainly been blessed, and I hope that in writing this little piece, I myself can play my part in keeping that ripple effect going.