I was off to Little Caesar’s (I know, I know . . . but you just can’t beat the price) on a mission. I’d ordered 4 pizzas and some breadsticks, but somehow came home with only 3 pizzas. An hour later, I realized the error and went back to try to get my missing pizza.
As I entered, there was a customer in front of me who turned to me with a smile on her way out the door. I smiled back, suddenly realizing that perhaps I knew her. In the days when I pretended that I was comfortable attending church, this woman was very friendly with me during church social events years ago. She was married with a few children, and there was a sense that perhaps her family had experienced homelessness or at least transiency. In some awkward twist, my husband and I were asked (even though I don’t think she knew our names), along with another couple, to be her child’s Godparents. While we were present at the actual ceremony, it was the last time we were involved in the lives of the family, and never extended ourselves to them in any way.
Silently reassuring myself that I wasn’t a scammer, I explained that I was missing a pizza to the man at the counter, clutching my receipt as proof. He went back to speak to a manager, and I heard her ask if I had a receipt. Whew! Verified as not a scammer. I was given my pizza and headed on my way.
As I walked toward the car, I heard the woman– yes, it was the woman from church. She was swearing at one of her children, who was sitting in the front seat of her van. She wanted the keys and he wouldn’t give them to her.
I didn’t stop.
I drove out of the parking lot, and spotted an elderly woman on the other side of the “busy” street. (I use the word “busy” here loosely, given that this is a suburb.) She was very slowly making her way, pushing her grocery cart in front of her. Every step looked like a concerted effort to steady herself. It was getting dark. How long would it take her to get where she was going? I couldn’t leave her. I drove around to get to her side of the street, thinking I’d missed her, but at her pace . . . where would she have gone?
I spotted her in a parking lot, stopping in front of a smoke shop. I hesitated. Would I help her if she were smoking? Wouldn’t that be enabling? If she smoked, I felt less sorry for her.
With a sigh of relief, I realized the smoke shop was closed, and she was headed into a pizza place. Pizza? Wait– didn’t I have a brand new pizza in the back of my car? She shouldn’t be spending her social security money on a pizza when I had one to offer (admittedly, likely not as good).
THIS WAS FATE. It was all some master plan so that I might Do a Good Deed. Not realizing my order was incomplete to begin with, then miraculously having the receipt as proof (usually the Little Caesar’s people offer to throw it away, and I always accept), now coming upon this woman in need? It all made sense.
Without believing what I was doing, I found myself parking the car and walking into the pizza place. It was joint, really. I found the woman and saw her grocery cart– it had some empty shopping bags. Was she homeless? What was I getting myself into? But no, she didn’t look homeless, so I carried on.
“Would you like me to take you to your home somewhere?”
She looked at me with beautiful blue eyes, closing them as she told me, “No, I’m all right.”
Silently reassuring myself that I wasn’t a scammer, I proceeded, “I have a pizza you can have. Would you like it?”
Again, she responded in the same way, closing her eyes as she repeated, “”No, I’m all right.”
And with that, I left. What else could I do? My eyes teared up as a drove home, thinking of her walking slowly down the dark streets of my not-always-so-safe suburb.
I told some of my children what happened, and we laughed thinking about how I really DID sound like a scammer–offering an elderly woman a ride home out of the blue? Just “happened” to have a pizza in my car?
But it hit me. I am a scammer. I am a scammer because the woman from church may have needed me at some point, just to listen, to not box her in with stereotypes, and I did none of those things. I didn’t invite her over, I didn’t make an effort to connect with my Goddaughter, even if she didn’t know my name, and I never opened up my mind to her completely. I saw her life unfolding as though it were fixed and scripted. When she spoke with me and gave me advice, I never gave it as much thought or value as I would if it had come from someone else. I was too busy, I had my own problems, and I just didn’t want to get too close. It’s possible that she would not have wanted or needed my help, either– whose to say who would have helped whom?
When I saw her with her child and the swearing between them, I thought– I have parenting struggles, too. I felt helpless. I did nothing.
The elderly woman– I would only help her conditionally. If she smoked? No. If she were homeless? No. I would only Do a Good Deed if it were easy, if it were comfortable, if it meant that I could do a quick errand and then be on my way, feeling good about my Good Deed.
The elderly woman didn’t accept my help. Maybe she looks forward to her summer night walks, maybe each step she takes independently reminds her that yes, she is all right. Maybe she wondered why I thought she needed help, because maybe she didn’t need it at all. Maybe it offended her, for me to have assumed anything. Maybe she thought I was a scammer. And I guess she’d be right.
Image Source: “Scam Means Fraud Scheme To Rip-off Or Deceive” by Stuart Miles on freedigitalphotos.net