I had a chance to help somebody and I chose not to. I turned my back, literally. I wish I were sharing the kindness of a charitable act, but instead I can only write about my shame.
That day, I was standing in line at the grocery store flipping through a magazine. Out of the corner of my eye I was also watching the young man in front of me. He was huddled with the checker looking at some markings on a piece of paper in his hand. His head hung low as they passed the paper back and forth.
Then the whispering began. I heard the checker say, “You’re not the only one. We had this problem earlier today and there may just be something wrong with the system.” The young man’s head lifted, he looked hopeful. “You mean it may work in another market?” Kindly she said, “No, I don’t think that’s it. Why don’t you come back tomorrow?”
I looked at his hands as she handed the paper back to him. Worn, weathered, and dirty. The type of dirt that settles into every crease and fold of your skin. The kind of hands you see on someone doing hard labor or living homeless. I looked at the total on the register. It wasn’t extravagant by any means, but in my mind, it may as well have been $500. I wanted to help. I wanted to say, “I’ve got this.” But after a year of not working, all I saw were the bills piling up. Instead, I turned my back and pretended to be looking at something else.
The people in line behind me were getting restless. Their own whispers were becoming more audible. The young man quickly apologized for having the checker bag his groceries and then quietly slipped away. He gave one solemn glance back as I stepped forward. As he walked out the door, I wondered if he had just left behind dinner.
I knew before he was out of site that I made the wrong decision. I can only hope next time I make a better choice.