I had a horrible headache. My body had decided the middle of Safeway would be a fabulous place to have a hot flash. I had to go to the bathroom. All these factors resulted in getting the barest of necessities and finding a place at the checkout as fast as I could.
She was in her 60s, I think. She was clean and nicely dressed, but her anxiety over the register's total as each item scanned caught my attention. Since I didn't want to be rude, I directed my attention to repairing my makeup, which was sliding down my face thanks to the personal sauna my body had created. As the wait grew longer, I tuned into what was happening. I watched as she handed item after item to the cashier to be removed from her bill. I admit by this point I was feeling annoyed, but I softened when she turned to me and said "I'm sorry." She had dark glasses covering her eyes, but I could see she was humiliated. I assured her it was okay, and turned my attention away again to allow her some privacy. Although I tried not to notice, I watched her hand eggs, milk, and bread back. I was near tears - she had to be someone's grandma, why was she in such a bad situation?
Then I realized....she was trying to find enough room in her budget for a pack of cigarettes. Normally, I am very against smoking, but it came to me that perhaps her pack of Parliaments were the only thing that took her mind off the awful circumstances she was in.
As she began to hand another item back, I reached into my purse and dug out a handful of change (of which I have far too much of). I handed the cashier the amount she needed in order to stop her from handing the item back. The lady tried to tell me no, but I shook my purse for her to show her how heavy the change was and told her she was lightening my load a bit. Had I dug into my wallet and handed bills to the cashier, I instinctively knew the lady would have refused it....but since it was change and I had proven I had a lot of it, she thanked me and allowed me to help. It was not a large amount by any means....but I hope it meant she was able to eat a little better tonight. She walked out of the store with tears in her eyes, and the cashier patted my arm and thanked me for helping. I told her I just couldn't stand by and watch her put one more thing back, even though she was doing it for cigarettes. We all need comfort of some kind in our lives.
Looking back, I wish I had asked the cashier to put all her items back in her cart and paid for them - it would have been maybe $15 and I could spare that much. I don't know if the lady would have let me or not, but the food items were essential staples and I would feel better about myself if she had gotten them.
The thought of this sweet lady going without food in order to support her cigarette habit is heartbreaking....but it was even more heartbreaking to think of her going without. Had she been a young person or been rude, I wouldn't have helped....but I just couldn't turn away from her. I think I'll be haunted by this situation for a long time. As I said in the title, "there but for the grace of God go I."
If you're reading this, pay it forward. That's the only return I would like to see - a few random acts of kindness towards those whose circumstances are not clear, but are obviously in need of a little help.