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Friday, March 30, 2012

In The Green Aisle

I'm not even sure what his name was, though he may have told me. He came to me while I was picking through the green bell peppers. They were 58 cents each, a fairly decent price, and I had just put two red and two yellow bell peppers into a thin plastic bag. Those were slightly more expensive, at 68 cents each, but still much cheaper than the usual 98 cents or more per piece. It was my last stop of a very full and rather frustrating day, and I was racing through the grocery store, throwing the usual fruits and vegetables into my cart as quick as I could so I could check out and head for home. As I tried to find a bell pepper that wasn't soft and bruised, I heard his voice.

"Excuse me, could you spare a couple of dollars?" I looked up, surprised to hear such a plea in a grocery store. I was used to seeing signs on the on-ramps or people sitting by a bus stop or on a street corner, but in a grocery store? He caught me off guard.

"I don't have enough money to buy the groceries I need, I'm on food stamps you see, could you spare a couple of dollars?" I looked at his basket; it held a single large yellow onion.

He was a tall guy, probably six foot three, of a heavy build, and wearing a grungy shirt that used to be white, and khaki pants (I think). His hair was a little messy and while he didn't look to be lacking for meals, he did look down and out. I rummaged in my purse, remembering the couple of dollars I had sitting there, and instead my hand pulled out a twenty dollar bill. I handed it to him.

"Are you sure? Can you spare that much? Oh thank you," he said, and then remarked that I must have a boyfriend. Painfully honest, I shook my head, and he immediately began to tell me that he was a college graduate, a Christian, and that he could teach me to play the guitar. I had already turned back to picking over the bell peppers again, and shook my head, embarrassed, as I replied, "No, thank you."

A young mother reached over my shoulder to grab a vegetable and I could feel her disapproving look. A minute later I heard him feeding the same line to another shopper several feet away near the lettuce. I carried on, bagging vegetables as I moved past the kale and cabbage. Suddenly my brain started to process what I had just done and I hurriedly decided that I should get what I needed and get out of there. I glanced back to see him at the meat counter, and as I went through the check out line, I saw him standing there, loud and obvious, purchasing his items.

In the car on the way home I thought about what I'd just done. I remembered Melissa, my best friend who gave generously to anyone to asked. Her mom had taught her to do that, and so she would fearlessly roll down her window at stop signs and hand twenty dollar bills out to scruffy looking strangers. I thought about all the Judge Judy and Joe Brown court cases I'd seen where loser guys expected codependent women to pay for their every whim and support their lazy habits. I remembered the story I'd heard in church about someone who resolved to put the largest bill they had in their wallet in the offering plate when it came around.

I wondered why I hadn't given the guy the two dollars. I had just quit my job and didn't need to be giving away money like it was spare change. Why hadn't I simply said "no" and turned away? Why hadn't I gone to the store manager and told him that someone was bothering the customers and asking for money? Was it because he caught me off guard and I didn't have time to think about it and figure out what to do? Was it because he seemed like a nice guy and I felt sorry for him? I really wasn't sure.

Then a very soft voice seemed to whisper, "If it had been Me, would you have given Me the money?" Yes! my heart exclaimed. "Then you don't need to worry," came the reply.

I'm not sure what I'll do next time I hear a voice in the green vegetables aisle at my local grocery store. Somehow I think I'll be making a more rational decision, a more logical one, than I did that day. After all, a guy really shouldn't be asking a girl for money. I need to learn to exercise sound judgment and not act on a whim, which I am wont to do. Yet somehow, I think it was okay. Maybe because, for that moment, I could act from a generous heart, and give. And that felt right.

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