Acts of kindness or butting in?

This is a very personal story this time. I can’t get this out of my head and most of the time I wish I could go back and have a Mulligan, a do over. This is what happened last week when I was at Walmart.

I was at Walmart with my mom and I had a whole bunch of cards and cards don’t work in the self checkout so I went to the “under 20” items lane. There was only one guy in line and it looked like he was almost done. I stood there and stood there for minutes. I didn’t know what he was doing and then I heard him ask how much more he owed. It soon became apparent that he was trying to figure out how to pay for what he had.

He was dirty. He had a lot of stubble on his face and his clothes didn’t fit right and he had an oxygen tank. He then handed the clerk a bag of 3 apples and asked her to take them off the bill and then he opened his wallet and took out a credit card and started to pay with that but it got wouldn’t go through.

It felt like I’d been standing there for a long time but it was probably just around 5 minutes. He seemed “confused.” That’s a really nice way of putting it but he just wasn’t “all there” and he did have that oxygen tank so he had something wrong with him. He ended up putting what he had on two cards. He turned to me and said “thank you” and he thanked the cashier and he walked away. The cashier also thanked me for being so patient but really, what could you do? It was obvious he felt bad and it was obvious he wasn’t “all there.”

But what I feel the worst about was WHY DIDN’T I PAY FOR HIS STUFF? I see his face and I watch him hand back those 3 stupid apples over and over in mind and it won’t leave. He couldn’t have had a dozen things. He only had 2 bags. That man needed the apples. I thought about it but then I felt funny because I didn’t want him to be embarrassed. I didn’t know if it was better to just stay quiet or what to do but I’ll tell you one thing, I’m never going to forget that man and I really wish I could go back again. I would have paid for his stuff without question.

I did ask the cashier if she knew who he was. I thought about getting him a $25 Walmart gift card but he was just gone. She said too that she wondered why someone like that was out shopping alone. That too makes me feel really bad. Can you imagine having nobody in the world who’d take you shopping?

Those DAMN apples are sometimes what I see in the middle of the night! I kid you not.

Have you ever performed a random act of kindness? Have you ever seen someone like this out alone? Would you have offered to pay for his food? He didn’t have much and there was no alcohol or cigarettes. Just those DAMN apples he wanted and picked out and had to give back!!

What would you have done? Do you have very many things you’d want a “do over” for? Do any of them come to mind?

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24 Responses to Acts of kindness or butting in?

  1. mssc54 says:

    Yes. I want to get back to this when I have more time.

  2. Oh, Joy… This is rough. I can imagine how it feels, this haunting you.

    I don’t think you should be so hard on yourself, though. Clearly, the man could pay something – who knows, he might have been very offended if you’d tried to pay. Listen, I’m not saying that I don’t understand the urge, and maybe next time you see something like this, you’ll take a different course, but I don’t think that you’re less of a good person for not having paid for this man’s apples. We all have things that we regret horribly. And I can, as I said, understand why this is haunting you.

    And yet… you can’t save the world. You can’t save or help everybody. Maybe I’m naive or maybe I’m making excuses for myself, but at a certain point, I’ve realized that we can only do so much and we need to pick our battles.

    I feel like I’m talking in cliches. I hope you don’t think any less of me for leaving this comment. All I can really do in the end if send good thoughts and mental hugs your way.

    • Joy says:

      I could never think less of you Ilana and thank you for thinking the best. I just wish I would have tried something. I feel like I just stood there and I could have done something but I just wasn’t sure. I worry where he lives and if he’s alone and has enough to eat. It really has worried me. I know how stupid that sounds though. I wasn’t sure if I should write about it or not.

      • It is ANYTHING but stupid, Joy. Your feelings reflect on your sensitivity, your kindness, your deep and lovely humanity. Not everyone would have these feelings after witnessing what you did. The fact that you feel this way just shows that if you’re ever in this situation again, you’ll make a decision and do something.

      • Joy says:

        Thanks so much Ilana. I know you would have felt this way.

  3. Laura says:

    You gave him patience. Many patrons would not have given him that little bit of dignity. They’d have made snide comments, been huffing and puffing, and gone stomping away, muttering loudly about incompetence and whatever else. You didn’t rush him. You simply stood, and let him have the time that he needed to complete his transaction. And maybe that is what he needed today. The lessons we learn, the things we give to one another, they’re not always the ones we think they should be. Maybe the money would have offended him, so you gave him patience instead. (and you gave it to the check-girl, too. Plenty of them hear all kinds of crap from customers.)

  4. SKL says:

    Joy, I think this is a very tough situation. One I’ve probably been in at some time or other. When a man ain’t got anything, he’s got his dignity. He would probably have felt horrible if you paid for his apples. It would have been very difficult for him to eat those apples, probably.

    I recall old movies where a guy is getting kicked out of a place and he is fighting because “I want to pay my bill first. I pay my bills.”

    Maybe he would have appreciated the help, but I understand why you were reluctant to offer it. I think that in your place, I would have done the same thing.

    Pray for the guy; that’s really all you can do. And maybe make a donation to an organization that helps folks like him.

    I recall having a discussion with a colleague from a low-income community. He said that when he goes to fast food, he never throws his garbage away, because in his logic, it creates more jobs if there is more work for the workers to do. He was all about creating jobs. But I said, are the workers going to feel happy or unhappy when you do that? Probably resentful. And if that’s the case, what’s more important – leaving a person angry but securely employed (at minimum wage), or leaving a guy respected? He said that was a good point – money isn’t the be-all and end-all of happiness. (Though granted, sometimes it’s a good start.)

    But yes, there are plenty of times when I’ve gone away from something saying “I’m such an ASS.” It’s OK, God loves us anyway.

    • Joy says:

      Where would I go to find out how to help in our own community?

      • SKL says:

        Maybe start with some social services office, or if you have a “first call for help” hotline, or even the police department or a hospital. They are probably used to pointing people in the direction of agencies / charities that help in times of need. Another idea is the Salvation Army, if you have one nearby.

      • Laura says:

        Local Churches might know, too. or they might operate something like that. The local food pantry would be a good resource, as well.

      • Joy says:

        Great idea’s guys. Thanks. I’d like to volunteer for Meals on Wheels. Then you can help the people you get to know.

        • mssc54 says:

          Joy, MOWs is a great way to help your community in a very tangbale way. My mom ran a route for over thirty years. Her “customers” really came to appreciate and count on her.

        • Sue says:

          I do believe St Anne’s is where they do the MOW’s. It’s also where the food shelf is so if you ever wanted to drop items off, that’s where you’d go.

        • Joy says:

          I thought there was one run through St. Anne’s. I think that’s something I’d really enjoy doing because you get such a feel of real people.

  5. mssc54 says:

    Okay, first of all let yourself off the hook. That inner compassion mechanism that should be working inside each of us is still alive and kicking in you!

    You can’t worry so much about what other peope think. YOU are the one that counts when it comes to things like this. This was just a good primer for that next time when you have the opportunity to make a big difference.

    My rule of thumb is to err on the side of benevolane. I’d rather (some) people think I’ve been taken advantage of, than have the feelings of, “dang it, I shoulda…”

    Don’t worry yourself. There WILL be more chances. 😉

  6. Sue says:

    I agree with everyone else. I think the patience you gave him was more valuable to him than the apples and that’s why he said thank you to you. And like Mssc said, there will be more chances.

  7. Nikki says:

    I think Laura said it all perfect! I can understand why it’s haunting you, but you know you have a kind heart…or this wouldn’t be bothering you in the first place. You have no idea how he would have reacted, and I truly believe you gave him the one thing he needed at that point, patience and time, and kindness. SO many would have gotten mad, said something rude. Seriously, let this go and I think volunteering your time would be a great thing, so many reasons!!! 🙂

    I can’t think of any situations like this that I’ve been in. I’ll have to think about this today. I was talking about this post with Jason last night. He said one day he was at the store and this little girl was in front of him. She had a few things that totaled up to about $6 but she only had change and it didn’t add to more than a couple bucks, so he told the cashier to add his stuff on and he’d pay it. She was shocked and so was every one in the line. I bet she was so happy…but there is a huge difference between a little girl and an older man. He may have been ashamed, embarrassed (even more than he was)…and like Laura said, he might not have been able to eat those apple, knowing.

  8. Joy says:

    Thank you everyone. I feel better just by sharing this. I think most of us here have kind hearts. Even when we disagree, we agree to do it. Some blogs are so nasty. Thanks to all of you for coming and for staying.

  9. Phyllis says:

    Working in a grocery store I see this type of thing often. Joy, the patience and grace you gave was an amazing blessing. For myself, I don’t carry credit cards, and often have a limited amount of cash with me, but I have been able to help out with a couple of bucks from time to time, and I feel fortunate to have been there when it happens. Other times with people on corners I’ve been able to help by giving a loaf of bread or something along those lines.

    To be honest, I’ve never seen an instance when anyone became surly when offered some help with paying. Slightly embarrassed, yes, at first….but then immensely grateful for the help. I usually go with the prompting from the Lord.

    However we handle these little situations at the time, when it’s over, that’s all there is. Don’t allow this to eat away at you. A missed opportunity will come around again and you will get a chance to re-do at that time. With the current economic times there are plenty of chances that will occur.

    Joy, you’re a wonderful woman, and I’m sure you help out when you can. Don’t feel bad about this situation or yourself. You’re fine.

  10. Laura says:

    The other question was, “have you ever committed a random act of kindness?”

    Yep. It was one of my favorite things to do when I was in college. I used to drive the tollway a lot, to and from school, a lot of other places. The tolls were the booth kind, where you’d pitch your coins into a basket, or hand them over to a (usually surly) person in a booth. One day, I started going through and paying $.80 instead of the required $.40, and told the Booth Attendant that the extra was to cover the guy behind me. I would usually get a big smile, and a “with pleasure!”

    More than once, I had drivers come up next to me, honk and give me a big smile and a wave. Not only did the tiny expense of forty cents make MY day – because it was cheap and felt good to do it – I think I made a whole bunch of other days. And with any luck…. those folks went on to pay the tolls of others behind them. It was such a simple, fun thing to do. And part of the fun was the surprise of it.

  11. Vicki says:

    I was just about in the same simular situation in walmart one day but it was an elderly couple the women being in a motorized chair buying a few groceries, the bill was like 20 some dollars. they put there credit card thru and it was no good and then they fumbled around some more and finally tried another card and it worked, this process took quite some time . I had told Sean as they left, had the next card not worked for them i wouldve paid for their groceries. I was not at all really bothered by the wait i had infact kind of felt bad for them and the amount of their bill was not that much, now had it been 100.00 it wouldve been another story.

    • Vicki says:

      now on the other hand ive watched people have to return food because the bill was higher then the money they had and the returned food was junk food, the people were young and it never even became a thought in my mind to help them out.

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