I 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. Iâ€™ll complain about prices, but Iâ€™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 baggedâ€”paper not plasticâ€”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 secondâ€”here Iâ€™ll be brutal and honestâ€”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, â€œWhat is someone who has to count dimes doing at Whole Foods?â€
Yup. Meet Judgmental Larry. Grumpy Larry. Superior Larry.
â€œIâ€™ll buy those,â€ Mr. Snazzy Tie told the clerk. â€œJust put â€˜em on my purchase.â€ He pointed to the item that was the difference between the cash she had and the cash she didnâ€™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! Donâ€™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, letâ€™s say there was a 90% chance that I saw a guy in a hurry. He wouldnâ€™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, â€œIs the dried mango a special treat for the kid at home who hardly ever gets treats?â€ Or, â€œIs she shopping at Whole Foods because her spouse has allergies and this is the only place she can get what he needs?â€
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? Isnâ€™t the third pillar of Islam the gift of charity? Wasnâ€™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, â€œThank you.â€
He hesitated, briefly had eye contact with me, and shrugged. â€œSure,â€ 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 wasnâ€™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.