I recently was reminded of a lesson I learned a couple of years ago while talking with a friend. She was telling me a story about something that had happened that week and I was imparting with her my experience, much like hers, and what I had learned about it. This is a story about giving and accepting. It is about understanding that giving is a circular process, one of reciprocity, and not a linear process. And this is what I learned ….
I was in the grocery line behind a women who appeared to be in her thirties with a little girl about six years old. I immediately recognized what she was doing. She was putting all the ‘essentials’ on the belt and holding back the ‘non-essentials’ in her hand basket, should she not have enough money for everything. But what struck me was what she considered ‘essential.’ There on the belt was a big cereal box of Cheerios, a package of hot dogs, a bag of fish, a couple boxes of Kraft dinner, bread, Milk and jam and peanut butter. This was not the food of champions, but rather the selections of a desperate mother, trying to feed her child for as long as she could until the next bit of money comes in. In the basket, I was horrified to see, were a bunch of bananas, apples, some veggies and a two pack of thin pork chops. As the cashier cleared the belt of her food, the woman asked for a subtotal. She then said she was finished and went to hand the basket containing the rest of the food to the cashier. I could tell the cashier was familiar with this type of activity too. Without hesitating or batting an eye, the cashier took the basket. It was really sad.
I have spent my years fixated about diet, food and healthy eating, as witnessed and felt by many of you that ‘tolerated’ my vegan years lol! What had just transpired in front of me, struck such a deep chord. To witness that this woman could not afford to provide good, healthy food for her daughter, seemed a crime. That many people in our society have to choose quantity over quality, brought to light the concepts I learned; that big industrial companies where heavily subsidized by our government. They produce inferior products, laced with huge amounts of sugar, salt and fat, but they are much less costly because of the subsidy. Meanwhile, the organic farmer gets very little subsidy comparatively, and so has to provide products at a higher cost. I always knew that healthy eating, alternative medicine and the like, where truly areas of the wealthy, or at least more well off in our society. On this day, I was faced with that discrepancy. Like the states, we are becoming those that have and those that have not, just two socio-economic classes.
I turned to the woman and said “Put those on your belt,” as I shoved a $20.00 bill into her hand, more then enough to cover the few items left in the basket. The cashier looked at me and hesitated and I said to her “Put them on the belt.” The woman just stood there, her mouth seriously gaping open as she stared at me. Then as it became clear to her what was happening, her eyes started to well up and she turned to me and said “Thank you. Thank you. God bless you child.” There was now another couple of people in line and I was wanting to keep this quiet and discrete. I just nodded at her and went about the business of putting my items on the belt. But she wasn’t done. As she packed up her belongings at the end of the belt, she again said, “Thank you. Thank you,” a little more loudly now because there was distance between us. I again, with my head down and eyes averted said, “No problem.” But clearly this wasn’t enough, and I just wasn’t getting it at that time either. She came to me as I was paying for my groceries, grabbed my arm and said “Thank you. God bless you. Thank you.” I was still looking away, my eyes averted, embarrassed by ‘all the commotion’ at this point, which for me just means any attention on me. I was just about to say “No problem” again when I suddenly had the thought, ‘she needs me to accept her thanks.’ I looked up, looked her in the eye and said “Your welcome. It was my pleasure and we have all needed a little help at one time or another in our lives.” With that she hugged me, blessed me and left the store, no doubt grateful for the stranger that had been kind to her today.
What I learned during that interchange, was that it was very important for her to be able to thank me and for me to accept that thanks. The exchange was not a linear one, from me to her, but rather circular, from me to her and then her back to me. To just give, that is charity, but to involve yourself in the exchange, that is charitable. I learned the difference in those two words that day and I have never forgotten that lesson. I had to work on accepting the thanks of people in my life, and sometimes strangers, and it hasn’t always been easy, but I try to raise my head and say “Your welcome” instead of dismissively responding with “No problem.” And on this day as I sat with my friend, I shared this lesson with her on the art of reciprocity .