(Before I start this, I want to say thank you for all of the kind and thoughtful comments on my last post. In case I haven’t mentioned it lately, I just love you. Truly.)
My embarrassing confession for today: I don’t do give back as much as I think I should. As much as I could, if I prioritized it better, anyway. I’m pretty good about giving money, but I’m not as good about giving time. And I can justify that with all sorts of things; I work long hours, and my kids need me, and money does more than time anyway, and blah blah blah. Excuses. I live a life of relative privilege, and I believe that means as a citizen of the world I have an obligation to—in some small way—help those who don’t.
You can thank Suebob for getting me thinking about this more, by the way. She’s highlighting 50 worthy charities as she heads towards her 50th birthday, which is exactly the sort of awesome thing you’d expect from her.
Anyway. That is preface to this: Yesterday afternoon it became clear that we had nothing in the house to eat for dinner. My regular schedule of grocery shopping and meal-planning had been thrown off by our camping trip and the long weekend, and unless everyone wanted dry Grape-Nuts for dinner (ewwwww), a trip to the store was in order. I left my family in the pool and drove off in search of sustenance.
My car’s thermometer said it was 98 degrees. (But don’t worry, because thanks to the humidity here in Georgia, it didn’t feel more than about 105 or so.) I parked at my local grocery store and headed in. And there was a homeless man sitting next to the door, asking folks on their way out of the store if they could spare a few dollars. I was on my way in and he didn’t say anything to me.
Another confession: In general my strategy with panhandlers is to pretend I don’t see them. I just keep walking, steer the kids onward (if they’re with me), and go wherever I’m going. Homeless people are a fixture in the downtown area, here, but this was the first time I’d seen someone on our side of town, and maybe that’s part of why I really looked at him. It was really hot yesterday; he just looked miserable.
I headed to the pharmacy to pick up some prescriptions. And then I looped back past the door on my way to shop for food, and saw the man was still sitting there. I could buy him some food, right? Get a loaf of bread, some peanut butter? But then I’d have to get something to spread the peanut butter with… and maybe he hates peanut butter…. I stood there, in the air conditioning, trying to figure out what to do. Then I remembered that they make sandwiches at the deli.
I went back outside. “Hi,” I said. He looked up at me in surprise. “I’d like to buy you a sandwich. What kind would you like?”
“Oh! That’s very kind of you. I’d like… I’d like… can I come in and pick it out?”
“Sure, come on.” He grabbed his backpack and we walked inside and headed back to the deli. It became clear as he hemmed and hawed over the options that he was dealing with some sort of mental illness; he mumbled to himself and twitched and the deli guys exchanged looks as he tried to settle on a mustard. Eventually he had his sandwich and chips and a drink, and we went up front to pay. I got my change and he said thanks, and I said no problem, please enjoy it.
He went back outside. I headed back over to produce to start my shopping.
I can’t tell you why, on this particular day, I decided to do that. Nor do I think I somehow did something awesome. The reality is that I could afford the money to buy the guy a meal and I wasn’t in a hurry, so I did. I hope it helped him. But one deli combo is hardly going to change his life. I know this.
Anyway, I was about six aisles down in my shopping when the store manager came up to me and began… apologizing. Profusely. “Ma’am, I am so sorry if that gentleman was harassing you. We have a no loitering policy here, and he shouldn’t have been there. He shouldn’t have spoken to you, and I am terribly sorry.”
I blinked at him. I tried to process what he was saying. Finally I managed, “He didn’t say anything to me. He certainly didn’t harass me.”
“Well,” he continued, “we have rules about that sort of thing. And we don’t want our shoppers made uncomfortable. I am really just very sorry.”
I found myself feeling… angry. Really angry. There’s some guy sitting outside a GROCERY STORE—where they routinely throw away hundreds of pounds of food every day—in the unbearable heat, hungry and homeless, and this guy was concerned that maybe I was uncomfortable? Because I have a credit card, my comfort matters more?
“I know you have rules,” I said. “I figured someone was going to chase him off, and he looked hungry, so I offered to buy him a sandwich. He didn’t harass me. He was just hungry. But, uh, thank you for your concern.”
He apologized again before scurrying off.
So, the question(s): Was my anger misplaced? Was the manager just doing his job? Is it unreasonable for me to wonder why the store manager didn’t give that guy some food and send him on his way instead of getting his panties in a wad over thinking that perhaps I’d been coerced into a deli run?
I love that store, by the way—I shop there every week, know most of the employees by name, and have always been pleased with their service. But that encounter with the manager just left me feeling… slimy. I hope I’m overreacting. Am I?