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Runck returns: Hello, again

Jessica Runck, Homegrown Hollywood columnist

Editor's note: Due to an outpouring of requests in the past month to keep Jessica Runck as a columnist, she's back! Her Homegrown Hollywood columns will be published the final Friday of each month in The Forum's Life section.

Hello, again. It's nice to be back.

After my last column ran in the paper, so many of you reached out to the Forum — and to me — expressing your disappointment in the decision to cancel my column that I was asked to return.

It's a funny place to be after such a dramatic and heartfelt exit. I poured my heart into that last piece and really tried to close out a five-year journey on a high note. And now, thanks to all the outpouring of support and emails I received, here I am again.

It feels like someone threw me a fancy goodbye party with a cake and confetti and one of those videos where people tell you how much you mean to them. And the next day, I announced "Never mind, I'm actually staying. But thanks so much for all the presents!"

So where do I begin? I think, first, with a thank you.

It was a humbling experience to hear how much support I had throughout the community. The truth is, the weeks after I was released from my column were bittersweet. Bitter for obvious reasons, but sweet because of all the emails and messages.

The best part about this column is the connection I've forged with my home community and those emails told me that despite backgrounds and varying views, it's possible to connect on a deep level with people of all kinds. It got me thinking about how often I take the time to really connect with people I don't know.

Last week, my husband, Jason and I were grocery shopping at the Whole Foods near our house. It's not my favorite place to shop, mainly because this particular store is filled with people that are a mix between Coachella fans and a coven of witches. (A friend of mine once saw a woman walking a pig on a leash — A PIG.)

After buying our organic nectarines and fancy yogurt, we pulled out of the parking lot. As we turned onto the street, I noticed an older woman holding a sign that read, "Hungry."

Our eyes met and I knew in an instant she really was. I told Jason I wanted to give her the box of crackers I had in my car and he encouraged me that I should. We turned around and he parked across the street. As an afterthought, I grabbed a fresh nectarine from our grocery bag.

I walked up to her and touched her arm. She looked at me, startled. "Hi," I said.

I held out the food. She stared at the box of crackers and relief was written all over her face. But when she saw that nectarine her mouth opened in shock and she gasped.

Gasped. She gasped at a nectarine. As if I were offering her a diamond.

Before I knew what was happening she'd wrapped me in a hug and was whispering in my ear over and over, "Thank you."

As we drove away, she'd already opened the box of crackers but she gently hid that nectarine under her coat. I cried all the way home.

I couldn't stop thinking about that gasp. About the look on her face when I held out the crackers. She'd been surprised that I stopped and took the time to actually see her — to acknowledge that she was suffering.

Her surprise was the thing that really stuck in my heart. It told me that out of the hundreds of people that walk by her every day, most of them don't stop. And on a different day, I would have been one of those people too.

And why? Maybe because I could look at her and think, "We're not the same at all."

It's easy to see a woman who's hungry, or a man who's sick, or a child who's been separated from her parents and not want to acknowledge that your suffering would be the same as theirs if you were in that situation. That there is no real difference between that person and you, aside from your circumstances. It's almost too painful. It's so much easier to ignore, to walk by, to turn off the TV.

But reminding ourselves of that is important — it helps keep us compassionate. It helps us remember we're all the same on a basic level and we shouldn't underestimate how much a simple gesture could mean to someone.

Even if it's just a nectarine.

Jessica Runck, who grew up in Wimbledon, N.D., and graduated from Concordia College, is a writer living in Los Angeles. Visit www.jessicarunck.com for more information.

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