Yesterday I was running errands and I was a bit more mindful than usual. Typically, I zoom from store to store with one thing on my mind, crossing my “to do’s” off the list as quickly as possible so that I can move on with my day. There was something a little bit different about yesterday. I had consciously decided to slow down and enjoy the day. The weather was perfect which uplifted my spirits. The sun was shining, the landscape had finally turned a vibrant shade of green and the smell of freshly cut grass was in the air. My favorite time of the year. So I turned off the car radio, opened the sunroof and hit the gas. My first stop was Wholefoods to pick up dogfood. While I was parking my car, I noticed a gentleman, who walked with a slight limp, making his way across the parking lot to the entrance. I’m not sure why he caught my attention, but he did. There was something about him that was unusual. He looked a bit confused or hesitant and this made me wonder about his wellbeing. I locked the car door and made my way to the entrance trailing behind him by a few steps. I noticed he was wearing a torn backpack with a large empty water bottle hanging out of the side pocket. He nervously paced the entryway and I took my time disengaging a carriage from the rack so that I would have a bit more time to observe him. And this is when our eyes met. I noticed a man who was seeking human interaction. He quickly looked away. I felt a wave of nausea, a gut feeling of sorts, about this man and wished I would have smiled at him. Was he homeless? Or was I creating a story in my mind. He gingerly placed his backpack in the corner of the lobby under a vegetable display crate and proceeded to enter the store. I followed suit. At that moment, I decided to mind my own business and wind my way to the dogfood isle. “Why didn’t you smile at him?” my minds chatter would not stop.
After checking out at the register I made my way over the smoothie bar. A Wholefoods smoothie is a once in a while special treat, not something I order often because a $6 smoothie is a bit of an indulgence. I felt the presence of someone next to me while I was waiting for my smoothie to be prepared. It was the man from the parking lot. He slowly walked up beside me and awkwardly placed an old wallet with a credit card lying on top of it on the counter. He then nonchalantly proceeded to pour milk into the paper shot glass of complimentary coffee as if he was at Starbucks preparing a $5 latte. The credit card looked brand new, as if it had never been swiped before. I wondered why he had placed it on the counter. Was he trying to make it appear that he was a paying customer?
I read a book recently by Brene Brown called Rising Strong. I felt as if I was reliving a story from her book. She described a trip to the grocery store when she encountered a similar situation. She sensed the man who exchanged glances with her was hiding something. After she made eye contact with him, he nervously ran over to the hot food bar and scooped some meat and vegetables into has hands and ran out of the store. She was ashamed that she hadn’t noticed the man’s desperation sooner and offer to buy him lunch. This story was now in the forefront of my mind. Having read Brene’s story I had an opportunity. What should I do? If I assume he is homeless and offer to buy him a real coffee, would I offend him? Was my radar completely wrong? What if, what if, what if. At this point, my smoothie seemed unappetizing due to the growing unease I was experiencing.
I had now become the nervous, hesitant looking one.
I felt shame and guilt in buying a $6 smoothie and walking away. I experienced a tugging on my heart surrounded by insecurity leading to indecision. On my exiting the store, I glanced over to the corner of the lobby and there it was. The torn green backpack with the empty water bottle hanging out of it. It was as if the universe was sending yet another sign, one last chance, to do the right thing. Hesitating was not the answer. I hurried to my car and threw the bag of dogfood into the back seat and rushed back to the lobby. I needed to get back to the backpack before he did. The sliding doors opened and there it was. I placed an inspirational Kindness rock on the floor next to the bag and a $5 bill in the front pocket. That was all I had. I’m not sure if the man was actually homeless, but I suspect he was. Even if he wasn’t, what was the right thing to do. Play it safe or play it kind. No matter what the situation truly was, I have vowed to act rather than hesitate. The only reason I am sharing this story is to inspire others to do the same. I am no hero, no good Samaritan. I am not looking for acknowledgement of any sorts. I am human. The underlying message in this short story is to simply notice when others may be struggling and don’t ever hesitate to help. Make the world a kinder place. It’s not about assuaging that momentary feeling of guilt or discomfort, it’s about having an impact on the lives of others, no matter how small.
Megan Murphy, CPC, ELI-MP