A few weeks back I was doing my regular grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, when I had the fortune of witnessing a small miracle wrapped into a perfectly tight package called ‘grace.’ Let me first acknowledge that I could spend hours in this grocery store; I never tire while perusing aisle after aisle of delicious food, offered at a fraction of the cost. Wherever you are, Mr. TJ, I applaud you.
On this particular outing, I had gathered my organic bananas, sliced gouda cheese, and chipotle salsa, among other wonderful goodies, and made my way to the checkout line. While gazing lovingly at the chocolate-covered sunflower seeds, my eyes caught sight of the man in line directly ahead of me. He was rifling through his pockets with such vigor; it was as if there should have been something in there, but instead, he repeatedly pulled his hand out empty. Then, the signs emerged, significant wear on his clothing, his shoes, his face. And although it was not blatant, his homelessness, I had a hunch that he would be taking his two items, some hummus and a bag of chips, back to the nearby underpass of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood bridge, where he probably rested his head every night.
“That will be…” something around four dollars, the cashier was saying, just as I was tuning in to their exchange.
The gentleman was reaching into his backpack, now, instead of his pockets, and pulling out a crumpled quarter-full bag of veggie booty. The other three-quarters were gone.
“Oh, and I’d like to return this,” he said. “I didn’t like it much… better to stick with the chips I know I like.”
And then, grace arrived, emerging without a pause.
“Of course,” the woman said behind the counter. “I like the other chips you chose better than the veggie booty too.”
Lightness came across this nervous man’s face. Finally, a reprieve for him. Dignity. Dwelling on earth without shame. Worthiness.
“You do?” he inquired.
“Yes, I do,” said the smiling woman. “So, that brings your total to…”
Something you can afford. Yes, sir, you now have enough coins to afford to eat. And you can walk out with your head held high.
I walked out, too, feeling tall, thinking about dignity.
This small marvel, an honor to witness, was a precious moment of grace shared between these two individuals, a thoughtful cashier at Trader Joe’s, and a man in need of food. It was simple. And yet, the recognition of humanness in others, the same humanness that is within ourselves, is sometimes hard to do. We draw conclusions, differentiating the man who sleeps under a bridge from the one who rests his head in a four-bedroom house. But the truth is, dear reader, we are all alike. We are all made up of the same head and heart and earnestness. But some get lucky. Others, not as much. And it is our job, our obligation, those of us who are warm at night, with food in our bellies, to help those who are cold, hungry, in need of a helping hand. It doesn’t require a lot. Often just looking into the eyes of others and offering a small gesture of grace is all you need to do.