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I’ve been thinking a lot about a person I met last week and hoping that wherever she is, she is doing well.

I was in aisle five at the grocery store, scanning a shelf of canned fruit when a petite blonde, wearing light blue sweat pants and a grey t-shirt, scooted past me with her cart basket filled with only a few items. Ten feet past me, the woman stopped short and then backtracked. As I set a can of pineapple in my cart, I warily watched the woman take a breath and approach me.

“Excuse me,” she said, smiling uncertainly. “I can’t believe I’m doing this. I’ve never done anything like this before.” She stopped as if to catch her breath.

I kept a smile but immediately prepared myself for some sort of sales pitch.

“Recently I was in a bad relationship. Domestic abuse,” she said in hurried tone. “But a local church helped me and it really changed my life.”

Clasping my hands in front of me, I was ready to respond that I already had a place of worship, but she seemed like she had a lot more to say so I let her continue.

She went on to tell me that the church had given her hope and help, and one of those ways was by buying her food. She had gone to another store and purchased groceries and meat. “I can’t believe I’m asking this, but would you be able to help me at all?”

This woman appeared to be my age, but that might have been our only similarity. I thought how different our lives must for her to ask for help in the middle of a grocery store. “Of course I can help,” I told her. “I’d be happy to buy anything here that you like.”

She looked down at the floor for a moment and then up again. “Would you mind giving me money? I only ask because the church gave me a gift card that I used at Aldi’s where they have real good prices on meat and I could buy so much more there.”

I kept a smile on my face even as my heart sunk. Here we were, standing in the middle of a grocery store and I offered to buy this woman whatever she needed. And she said no.

She rushed on to explain, “You see, I can buy a lot more at the other store. I had the gift certificate but it ran out.” And then she went on a little more, her story becoming bigger and less focused on food and more on needing money.

I continued to smile but shook my head. “I’m sorry, I can’t give you money, but I would gladly buy you anything you want. I can meet you at the front registers.”

Her smile faltered only slightly. “Okay. That would be good. I’ll see you at the registers.” Then she turned and, retrieving her cart, rushed away.

As I made my way through the store, winding my way up and down aisles, past fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy, I kept an eye out for her. At the front register, the cashier scanned an extra package of chicken for me and then we packed it in with the rest of my groceries. I made sure to look for her, but the woman who was pandering to purchase groceries did not wait to accept the free food.

I have a friend who is one of the kindest and hardest working-at-being-selfless-people I know. She will tell you she is flawed, but for those who know her, she is someone who gives so much to others with a calm, peaceful and hopeful demeanor. I thought of her that day, trying to channel what she might do if the woman had approached her. While I knew the woman in the store needed help, my instinct told me if she truly needed food, she would have accepted it, but if I gave her money, it may only increase her trouble. My friend and I have had discussions about how sometimes doing the right thing can be difficult, especially when you see someone is in pain or a challenging situation.

I can’t imagine what sort of challenges the woman in the store went through to arrive at that situation. I wish I could have helped her in some way, and I pray that she finds a path less challenging.

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