This morning I woke up later than usual for a Saturday. It was nearly 9 AM and I stretched lazily in my bed wondering how much work it would take to get presentable for a bank run and grocery shopping. I trudged to the bathroom, ran through the daily hygiene rituals, fixed my face, fixed my hair, picked out my cutest shoes, trendiest jeans, sporty top, and kick ass shades and headed for the door. You never know who you might run into at the store, right? It could be Mr. Right... or even more important... someone you've not seen in years. I'd rather look like hell when I meet Mr. Right than if I run into someone from 5 years ago that looks like they haven't aged a day.
Being a natural slug, I am required to start nearly every day with an energy drink or at the very least a piping hot cup of strong coffee. When I pull out of the driveway in the mornings, my car instinctively moves in the direction of the nearest gas station where my drug of choice can be purchased without scorn. Convenience stores are the crack houses of the caffeine addict's world. If there were a way to just invite my friends over to the local and sit around the Monster cooler with an IV stuck in my vein connected to a giant Monster lo-carb and just chill, I'd have at least one party there.
Today was no different. I dropped by the Get N' Go to get some "go" and stood a bit impatiently in line to pay. At the counter stood a boy no more than 9 or 10. It's hard to be sure because he stood fairly tall, but his limbs were so incredibly thin. One hand clutched a handful of change. The other hand held a pint of milk. He handed both to the cashier and came up a few cents short of the total. The cashier smiled and said, "Don't worry... I've got it." and paid the rest out of a small jar behind the counter. The boy simply stood there, looking a bit dazed. It wasn't as if he didn't understand what had just happened, it was more than that.
The cashier looked a bit concerned and asked if he was alright. He turned a bit to walk away and then stopped and looked dazed. He turned back to her and said, "I wanted this milk so I pedaled up here really fast on my bike and I'm just tired now." The lady smiled and motioned to the seating area for the little take out restaurant attached to the store, "Why don't you go sit down and rest a minute?" she said. And he walked shakily over to a booth and sat down. He did not open the milk.
Now I don't mean to paint all children of the US with the same brush, but given what I know of my own children and their friends over the years I know that the boy was not there to get milk because of all the things he could crave at (now) 10 AM he craved a pint of 2%. With the price of milk these days he could have gotten a soda or a candy bar or maybe a juice and a snack. He was getting milk because he NEEDED milk or someone at home NEEDED milk. Judging by his size and his lack of energy he needed more than milk.
I watched him sitting at the table while he stared blankly at the milk. He didn't look up to meet anyone's eyes. He didn't look around at everything around him. He just stared at the little waxy carton of liquid in front of him. As I approached the counter to pay for my drinks, I looked at the display of foods at the front. 'Fresh Fruit $.79 Your Choice' read one. I looked at the checker and then to the boy and back.
"Please add two pieces of fruit to my bill and when he gets ready to go, tell him to pick out a couple of pieces." I said. She smiled sadly and replied, "Breaks my heart." "Mine too." I replied and walked out of the store with tears about to spill down my cheeks. I remember being poor. When someone did something nice for me it was almost as humiliating as it was welcome. We are programmed to feel we are inadequate when we are unable to meet our own needs. I wasn't going to put the kid through that. Better to be gone when he picked out his fruit.
I do my best to put sadness behind me as quickly as I can when these things happen in public. I try to smile at everyone that meets my eyes on any given day. That's exactly what I did... or tried to do. I spent the rest of my outing deciding on which noodle cups to buy, whether to buy a half gallon of skim or a full, did I need cereal, Chobani or Fage, are there enough chicken breasts at home or should I get more, brown and wild or white rice... really mundane and unimportant things.
Pushing the cart to the car I thought about what to write today. I think we've sufficiently covered my excess of vacation and my aversion to onion for the week. Sex just isn't on my mind so we can skip that. I've read 4 great books this week, but who wants a book review? Then it hit me... Holy shit! How about I write about something that matters?
I've volunteered at The Banquet (a local soup kitchen), participated in food drives, wrote checks for good causes, and been an active chair for company United Way campaigns. None of those felt as fulfilling as buying two pieces of fruit for a boy at a gas station.
It is never a child's fault that there isn't food on the table. It's never a child's fault that Mom and Dad can't afford school supplies. When the child is wearing pants that are too short and shoes with a hole in them, the child isn't the one to blame. We all know this.
My goal is always to make people smile. I try to write something warm or fun into most pieces. If nothing else I hope someone can relate and maybe feel less alone, weird, goofy, or whatever. Today, I hope that I can inspire anyone who reads this to reach out. Outside of the charities you already support, aside from the community actions you participate in.... help a child.