Tuesday, December 2, 2014

It could have been me (and very nearly was)

This morning, I stopped by the store on my way to physical therapy. I needed some razors and toothpaste and Walmart was on my way to the PT office. I picked up my items and headed to the checkout line. There was a woman being checked out and a man in front of me so I wouldn’t have too long to wait or so I thought. But there was a problem with the woman’s order. We waited, there was conversation, we waited, some people went off to the one other line open at that time of day, we waited, the customer service woman came over and then much discussion occurred.

I finally realized that the woman trying to check out was paying with food stamps or whatever they’re called today, only one of her items didn’t qualify and neither the cashier nor the customer service woman could figure out what it was. People were getting impatient, the customer was clearly uncomfortable and I realized so was I but not because of her.

You see, years ago when my ex and I first returned to the States with two small children and no jobs, we’d had to go on food stamps. It was a necessity but completely humiliating and eye opening to me. I can remember like it was yesterday being the one at the grocery store checkout line, getting my order rung up. I was in nice clothing because I’d just had a job interview, and I had to pay for my non-food items with a $100 bill—the only cash to our names and it had been given to us by a family member. The judgment from the other people in line and the cashier was obvious and complete. I couldn’t wait to get out of that place.

Then fast forward shortly after my divorce was final—I had no job, no money and a lot of debt. I tried then to get on food stamps or some sort of assistance but was denied because I owned a four year old car. I knew if I sold the car. I would have money for a little while but then I’d be trapped with no way to get to any work I would be able to find. That was, no joke, a very dark time for me.

So this morning I could feel tears just under the surface as I watched the scene play out. I asked the cashier how much was owed, and it was under $5, a small amount to me today. I handed over my credit card and told the customer that I’d been in her shoes and I knew it was a hard place she was in.

I’m not sharing this to say wow I’m sure a great person. I’m sharing it because it’s so easy to judge others. I have nothing in common with that woman today, but I do know how it feels to need public assistance and how it feels to be judged for that need. I hope I brightened her day today and didn’t add to any shame or judgment she feels. I hope that most of all because that’s worth more than $5 in my opinion.