A Buck Eighty-Seven

product_469I was stuck in a slow-moving line at Whole Foods, the land of good grub and high-priced vitamins. A friend of mine calls it Whole Paycheck. But the stores have excellent quality. I’ll complain about prices, but I’ll keep returning for the granola and local produce.

There were several folks behind me at checkout.

And a guy in front of me.

He wore creased slacks and a snazzy tie. He had the look of a person with a tough day behind him and home just a few left and right turns away once he pulled out of the parking lot.

The woman ahead of him had most of her purchase bagged—paper not plastic—and she was counting money.

Ones. Fives. Nickels. Dimes.

The clerk watched her recount the money again.

We all watched her count the money.

She was short of cash. For a second—here I’ll be brutal and honest—I felt the bile-like rise of prejudice grip my thoughts. I could hear a background clock echoing in the store, with clanging clicks for each lost second, as I seethed . . . and silently wondered, “What is someone who has to count dimes doing at Whole Foods?”

Yup. Meet Judgmental Larry. Grumpy Larry. Superior Larry.

“I’ll buy those,” Mr. Snazzy Tie told the clerk. “Just put ‘em on my purchase.” He pointed to the item that was the difference between the cash she had and the cash she didn’t have.

One dollar and eighty-seven cents.

It was a bag of dried, sugared mangos.

You want to hear more grumpiness? Dried mangos! How dare she waste money on frivolous items! Spend your money on essentials! Don’t slow down my day for your foolishness!

In a moment, with his purchases completed, Mr. Snazzy Tie handed her the dried fruit.

With a low voice, and a bowed head, she thanked him and left.

It was a simple act. It was probably him deciding the buck eighty-seven was worth her not having to anguish over what to leave behind. So, let’s say there was a 90% chance that I saw a guy in a hurry. He wouldn’t have done that for $10.87. Time is money.

And yet, maybe not. Was it an inexplicable moment of grace?

Maybe, unlike me, his weary thoughts took a different path. He could have wondered, “Is the dried mango a special treat for the kid at home who hardly ever gets treats?” Or, “Is she shopping at Whole Foods because her spouse has allergies and this is the only place she can get what he needs?”

Who knows what Mr. Snazzy Tie thought? But his actions challenged my grumpiness. I witnessed an act of generosity.

How often was Buddha among beggars? Isn’t the third pillar of Islam the gift of charity? Wasn’t Jesus accused of spending time with the wrong kind?

As a preacher, I know the Gospels record enough times when Jesus was slammed for whom he hung around with to believe it was a regular way of life. He befriended the ignored, the neglected, the invisible, and the counting-the-nickles-and-dimes crowd.

As Mr. Snazzy Tie turned to go, I said to him, “Thank you.”

He hesitated, briefly had eye contact with me, and shrugged. “Sure,” he said.

Who knows what he was thinking? But I know I was thanking him for helping the woman who was short a buck eighty-seven. It wasn’t because it got the line moving, but more because it stopped me in my grumpy tracks. And I also thanked him because I witnessed a gift, a gesture of enough grace to help me have new eyes to see.

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  1. Larry,
    I like this, but the link says it will take me to “Beyond the Boundaries of Speech” Musings on Donald Trump and Martin Luther King Jr. I’d like to read that too.

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