It was a sale day, and the Walmart in Chicago was packed. Droves of people dressed in Uggs boots, skinny jeans and North Face fleeces gazed with deep focus at the dizzying selection of electronic toys, housewares, purses and tools. Some people were clutching Starbucks coffee cups. Some were gripping iPhones.

I, too, was there to shop, but I came with my family and my disabled brother Josh. We were looking for markers.

Where else were two parents, four rowdy children, and a blind and mentally disabled adult to go?The real reason we dared to enter Walmart on a sale day was because it was way too cold for us to do anything outside, and there was no place else in Josh’s neighborhood for us to walk around and make noise.

Josh lives in an assisted-living group home in a suburb of Chicago. Aside from the gas stations, strip malls and fast-food joints, there’s not much else going on out there. When we drive out to visit him, we usually pack a picnic and eat it in the forest or park, but today was too cold to be outdoors. So aside from Walmart and perhaps Target, where else were two parents, four rowdy children, and a blind and mentally disabled adult to go?

So we braved the crowd. And, with three kids dangling off the sides of the cart and one strapped to my husband’s chest in a Snugli, we zigzagged our way through displays and kiosks until we arrived at the craft aisle. My brother and I followed behind, arm in arm, at a comfortable-for-Josh snail’s pace.

Entering the craft aisle was like entering a mild panic attack. The selection of goods was beyond overwhelming. Shelves loaded with seductive glue bottles, shimmering beads, brilliantly packaged crayons, and a bevy of paints all screamed, “Buy me, buy me, you need me, I’ll make you happy!” And, instead of just taking what we needed and making a beeline for the checkout, we got drawn in, and found ourselves wondering: should we buy the 10 box of markers, or would the super-size artist suitcase with 500 markers be better? Should we get 100 popsicle sticks for $5, or 1000 popsicle sticks for $10? The kids wanted construction paper. Glue guns. Googly-eyed fuzz balls and colored pencils. Paint brushes weren’t on our list, but they sure were tempting. Come to think of it, so was the glow-in–the-dark paint. Coloring books were on BOGO, buy one, get another one free! Play-Doh came with a complimentary gift. The weaving loom looked fun—and educational. And, now that you mention it, we need more chalk.

And that’s when Josh started howling like a caged coyote. “Wooooo! Woooo! Awooooo!” He let out three loud yelps, and waved his hands wildly around his ears like a drunken conductor. People stopped their shopping to stare, and I knew I had to stop mine too. So I broke away from my crisis of indecision and took hold of his arm. I guided him down the aisle on another leisurely stroll. Meanwhile, my husband and kids were left agonizing over shades of rainbow lanyard and alphabet stencils.

As soon as Josh and I started walking, he calmed down. We took a few steps, made a few turns and landed in the toy section. Suddenly Josh froze. “Come on, Josh,” I said. “Let’s keep walking.” But he refused. And I couldn’t budge him. So I had no choice but to stand still with him. Dead still. Arm in arm. In the toy section at Walmart during the busiest time of their year.

And that was when I stopped noticing the deals, and started noticing the peopleAnd that was when I stopped noticing the deals, and started noticing the people. Educated adults, fixated on toys like zombies at a zombie pageant. Normal, functioning adults, consumed by consumerism, and completely caught up in stuff, as if the stuff itself was the most important thing in the world.

My moment of observation was only just that, because almost immediately Josh broke out of his still silence and started humming. Then whistling. Loud whistling. And with a fluid, tango-like sashay, he began swaying rhythmically from side to side. And so did I. It must have been a real scene to see the lady with a long skirt and headscarf swaying arm in arm with the whistling blind man. People from all over the aisle cocked their necks sideways and looked at us with twisted faces. For all I know, they were probably thinking the freak show just arrived. I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t just a drop embarrassed. But this was my reality. This was how it goes with my brother, and this was something I was getting better at. I took a deep breath, and accepted it. Appreciated it, even.

As we attracted a small audience of people who likely felt grateful to not be in our shoes, standing with Josh—and feeling so elevated by him—I couldn’t help but feel grateful to not be in theirs. Dazed in Walmart, lost in a cyclone of stuff, confused and buffeted by “things” on all sides, they looked at that moment strangely pitiable to me. Josh was the only one around here who seemed serenely content, blissfully grounded in the eternal, and unspeakably wise. And for a moment, I was fortunate enough to be in that space with him.

Feeling a little like a spacecraft hovering above my own scene, I saw myself sandwiched somewhere in between the obsessive, hedonistic shopper and the ascetic, clairvoyant blind man. Surrounded by shoppers during the sale rush in Walmart, I felt like a metaphor, a teaching tool, living theater, a season’s greeting message from G‑d. Yes, I too am a consumer, obsessed with things, often fooled into thinking I need everything, wondering how I could live without it. Yet I am connected to and influenced by my big brother, who owns nothing and desires nothing but the clothes on his back, the food on his plate, and the love and support from the people around him. He gets what he needs, and he knows that it will be given to him in the right time.

When I aim for my best, I strive to be a little more like him.

I am connected to and influenced by my big brother, who owns nothing and desires nothing but the clothes on his back, the food on his plate, and the love and support from the people around himJosh doesn’t have to wonder if a kitchen gadget will improve his quality of life. He’s got no North Face jacket, no Uggs, no skinny jeans. No iPod, iPad or touchscreen cell phone. No artist suitcase, Starbucks, or other cool stuff. No brand names. No distractions! He has his breath. He has the moment. He has G‑d.

Standing with Josh amid the madness, I experienced the elusive magic that beckons just beyond reach in those hazelnut instant coffee commercials. The calm. The peace. The comfort. Standing with Josh, I had what we all really need, and that’s each other. Love. Good deeds. Connections of the heart. Swaying together arm in arm. The moment.

As King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, it’s all vanities.” And all the “things”—for how much I, as much as everyone else, “love” them, in the end they will all disappear. They will mean nothing to us.

Being in that moment with Josh, in that knowingness, was the ultimate Walmart special.