An opportunity to help someone else recently broke my heart.
That may sound dramatic, but I’m not sure how else to describe the sadness and heaviness I carried with me afterwards.
On the evening of New Year’s Day, my husband and I went to the grocery store to pick up a few things. We wanted to get our groceries as quickly as possible, because during our big grocery trips, it can sometimes take an hour or more. This was not a big trip, so we really didn’t want to be in the grocery store any longer than necessary.
We zipped through the aisles — me, impatiently — and in very little time, we were at the only checkout stand that was open.
Someone else was ahead of us in line, but nearly all of her items were already scanned by the time we got there. Nonetheless, we waited. And waited. And waited.
We began to get frustrated. I gave my husband that deadpan look to let him know I was annoyed. With my eyes, I tried to say, “Here we were so quick about our shopping, and now we’re going to stand in line for longer than it took us to pick out our groceries.” (I don’t actually believe he read all that just from my eyes, but he definitely understood my annoyed-deadpan look.)
I began to pay more attention to the situation. The woman was older, in her 60s. Her hair was matted. She squinted at everything, and I took that to mean she couldn’t see well. I heard the clerk tell her she needed about $30 more.
I can say the rest seemed to happen very quickly, but that would be an excuse. So I will just say that it happened, and I did nothing.
The woman had swiped what I presume was a government assistance debit card. It covered the majority of what was in her cart, except about $30 worth.
While the woman stood silently, probably wondering what to do, the cashier suggested she return some items. The woman offered up some large jugs of vegetable oil. The clerk took them off her bill.
Returning the oil helped, but not enough. Then, the woman gave back two bags of sour cream and onion potato chips.
Still, the woman owed maybe $3 or $4, and she didn’t even have that.
Somewhere during the time the potato chips were chosen for return, I faintly heard God knocking on my head.
I scrambled in my wallet for cash. I had $1 bills, but not enough to cover the remaining tab. I asked Matt, as quietly as I could, if he had any cash.
By the time we intervened, the tab was just down to that $3 or $4, and we paid it for the woman. She thanked us and left.
I made it to the car, after loading our groceries in the trunk, and to the first stoplight before I began to cry. It still bothers me so much that I have tears in my eyes as I write this.
Matt understood it, of course, and held my hand as we drove home.
We discussed the situation. Why hadn’t we seen it sooner, that we could help in this small way? I had stood there impatient and annoyed when I could have leaned forward and said, “We’ll pay the rest.”
I could have told them to add the vegetable oil and potato chips back and we would pay for those, too. Because seeing them take those potato chips really got me, and maybe part of that is because I’m a fat girl. I just pictured this poor woman at home with her small comfort of sour cream and onion potato chips and how she wouldn’t have those now.
I even could have picked up the oil and potato chips after she left and taken them to her in the parking lot.
Something else that really bothered me is that I’d seen this happen before in the grocery store and had done absolutely nothing then.
We prayed for that woman that night, and I still think about her and ask God to watch over her. I didn’t do the right thing that night, but regardless of whether I had or not, I must trust that God will take care of her.
In our Thursday night group, we’ve been discussing our word for the year. We each picked a word to describe how we want to improve ourselves and our spiritual lives this year. Matt and I, with a house and other big changes in mind, picked the word opportunity. I realize now that it’s not just opportunity for ourselves that I should be focused on, but also opportunities to help others. Because God calls us to be ready to share his love, and I just shared a tiny, grudging part that night.
But I’m ready, now — ready for the opportunity to help someone who can’t afford all of her groceries in the checkout line, and I hope I recognize other opportunities when they come in other forms.