Ask, And You Shall Receive

Ask, And You Shall Receive

I’m a crier.

Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you that my frequent crying spells are both predictable and pathetic.

Sad commercials? No brainer. Sappy movies? Of course. Weddings? Always. Funerals? Forget about it.

I can usually hold it together while grocery shopping on a Tuesday. I’m not saying I’ve never cried at the market; I’m just saying the circumstances have to be especially moving.

This time, it was the gluten. Goddamn, gluten.

Avoiding it is supposed to be what’s best for me, but at times, I’m convinced it’s going to be the death of me.

So why not just eat it? Two weeks ago my doctor revealed test results that showed I’m extremely sensitive to gluten. My body doesn’t process it well.

I wasn’t surprised at all. The diagnosis explained a decade of horrible stomach pains, which had driven me to countless tests for ulcers. For years, doctors had said there was nothing wrong with my stomach. That it was just the way my “body dealt with stress.” 


I listened to the doctor’s half-hearted reassurances and accepted them as fact. Sure, it’s perfectly normal to lay on the floor with stomach pains so severe they feel like someone’s stabbing you. Said no one. Ever.

Like most things in my life, I took this new suggestion to become gluten free very seriously. Let’s do this thing.

I immediately bought an idiot’s guide for my dilemma as well as a best-selling book that explains the science behind the problem. Here’s the gist of the latter so you don’t have to read it yourself: the molecular structure of wheat has changed so dramatically in the past 30 years that lots of people have a hard time processing it.

So, I cut gluten from my diet for 13 days. I felt like a new person without “healthy whole grains” in my body.

I was doing well on my journey to a healthier gut, feeling proud and prepared. Until I went shopping on a Tuesday, when I found myself turning over item after item at Trader Joe’s to repeatedly find the words I have come to dread: “contains wheat.”

The seventh time I pulled something I love off the shelf to find it was now off limits, I just started crying.

Not my Oprah-inducing ugly cry, just a steady stream of tears running down my cheeks as I tried to keep my quivering chin held high. I eventually pulled myself together to face Larry, the cashier on lane six, so I could get the hell out of the store and really cry in the car.

But just as I was preparing to put on a brave face and swipe my card, something remarkable happened: I asked for help and received it. Here’s how it went down.

Larry: How are you today?

Me: (Long sigh) I’m finding it hard to be gluten free.

Larry: Oh you’ll get the hang of it in no time; don’t be so hard on yourself at the beginning. If you’re doing better than you were yesterday, that’s a big step forward.

Jesus, Larry. Please don’t make me cry.

As Larry ran each of my items over the scanner, he taught me a little bit about them, including which to put back and which I should even buy from a different store.

After my seven minutes of impromptu nutrition school with Larry, I felt like my load had been lightened. I breathed deeper than I had in two weeks, and I didn’t lose it when I got into my car. I went to a second grocery store, energized to hunt for more gluten-free goods.

And here’s what I learned: People who never ask for help, never get it.

When Larry asked how I was doing, I didn’t respond with the usual, “Fine.” I said I was struggling. And as a result, Larry didn’t give me a disingenuous, “Great.” He said, “Let me help you.”

Funny how that works.

It even worked at dinner that night. My husband Richard and I had a date at Sabai, our favorite local Thai restaurant. Having learned from the day’s earlier events, I confided in the waitress. I told her I was newly diagnosed and didn’t know what to order. She said she’d help me, and she brought me a hand-written gluten-free version of the menu. Later, when she came to check on us during the meal, I told her how much I loved the noodles in the dish…and she told me where to buy them in Richmond.

At the end of the incredibly delicious meal, I jokingly told her I’d pay money to watch the chef make the exact same meal so I could try doing it myself at home. It was that good. And lo and behold, she delivered this fine specimen when she delivered the bill:

Who takes time out of their busy shift to ask the chef for the recipe and then transcribes it for a random patron?

Somebody who has been asked for help!

People who ask for help find people who are willing to help. And here’s the love note I left with her tip:

I could have cried. But I didn’t. I’ll save my tears for something more worthy, like a Hallmark commercial. Or maybe the grand opening of a Trader Joe’s closer to my house. In the meantime, I’m going to figure out this challenge, and I’m going to ask for — and gratefully receive — help, every step of the way.

Katherine Wintsch