Hopefully someone in the store that day had been a bigger person than I.
Originally written on December 26, 2016 at Oozlefinch Brewery
I shop for groceries the same way I intend to survive the zombie apocalypse; dodging bodies and taking only what I can carry. Price is of no concern, the only imperative is survival. All other patrons are assumed dangerous –I’ve passed entire aisles just to protect my delectable, massive brain tissues.
I went to the grocery store today without a list, because sometimes you just need to live life like an outlaw soccer mom. I hustled through the store as I usually do, constantly gazing forward like a predatory Stephen Hawking. In the freezer aisle I was stopped by a middle-aged woman on a motorized scooter cart. Without saying anything she handed me a note. In sweet, loopy handwriting it read,
“Hello! I am deaf and going to school. Can you donate food/money/cards to help me out?”
She adorably signed it with a heart, but I was in shopping mode. I had not wanted to be bothered and was almost done shopping. So I handed the note back and said, “Sorry, I don’t have any,” and stalked off, infuriated that she had the audacity to ask for help. It’s the zombie apocalypse, dammit! Every man for himself.
It’s not a rare occurrence around here in Hampton that a stranger would come up to me and ask for money, and they often reek of booze and have bruises around their veins. There are lots of poor people around here and some of them approach you with their waistlines exposed, saying, “It’s okay, I’m unarmed.” Introverts, beware.
I continued to shop and justified that her problems weren’t mine. In the refrigerated aisle I checked a carton of eggs to see if any were cracked and none of them were. It was my last item; I could check out. I had everything I needed.
And that thought struck me hard. I had everything that I needed. It was true of the moment and in general. That woman did not have everything she needed. I wasn’t worried about the price of my own groceries, but suddenly when it was for someone else, price was a big deal.
I don’t much like our current welfare system. I won’t get into that contentious subject as we all have an opinion on the matter. I don’t like it, and it occurred to me that helping this woman directly during her time of need would bypass the welfare system. Why rely on the government when you can rely on your neighbor? That was the type of country in which I wanted to live; one where the citizens rely on each other and not on the government.
At that moment, I was what was wrong with America. I was worse than the One-Percenters who fart through fragrant suppositories (“Mmmm, good one dad! Smells like money!”), worse than the hordes of douchenoodles with man buns and their hair stylists. Maybe she wasn’t deaf, maybe she wasn’t poor. Maybe she was just paranoid and putting away supplies for the zombie apocalypse. But maybe she needed help, and I was in a position to help her.
I darted over to the soup section and scooped up half a dozen cans of soup, about five measly dollars’ worth, and then paid. I left the rest my groceries with the clerk to go find the woman in the store. She wasn’t there. I drove around the block a few times to see where she had scooted off to. She was gone. Hopefully someone in the store that day had been a bigger person than I.
Guilt is a small price to pay when you have ample rent money, a budding retirement account, and grocery money. And I won’t try to remedy that guilt because I earned it. But I do think that this year I am going to start carrying more cash on me because the people in need will fare better with whole dollars rather than the government’s leftover pennies.
When I went to Oozlefinch to write away the blues, a woman came up to me at random and asked me if I was writing something important.
I told her, “Absolutely not. It’s all bullshit.”
“How old are you?” she said.
I told her, and she took the pen from my hand, flipped to the last page of my journal, and wrote,
“I am 43. You will not be rich and ready to refine at any age. But you will have knowledge, love, hurt, and joy. So with every event- embrace it and keep smiling, loving, and giving. Peace!”
I intend to keep that page in my wallet straight through the zombie apocalypse and for the rest of my life, or at least until the day I forget it in the washer machine.