As I do about once every few months, earlier this week, I ventured out to drop off a bag of non-perishable groceries and personal care items to the local food pantry at my township office. I had a number of errands to run before a doctor’s appointment and was focussed on checking off items on my to do list.
I walked into a busy township office. One woman was at the counter applying for her passport and two others were waiting. My bag was heavy, but I sincerely thought, “oh good, waiting in line gives me a few moments to practice mindfulness and slow down.”
The line moved quickly and Woman #3 stepped to the counter before I knew it. She wanted to pick-up food from the food pantry. The Township Employee asked if she had ID. With a shaky voice, she realized she didn’t have her ID with her. My heart sank.
No problem, the Township Employee could look her up in the system if she’d been there before. The woman gave her name, only to be met with bad news a few seconds later. She hadn’t been to the food pantry in 2017, so she couldn’t have any food unless she could prove her identity.
Did she have anything with her that showed her address? A piece of mail? A checkbook? Insurance card? ANYTHING? It didn’t even need a photo. Just anything. The woman dug through her purse searching and my heart broke.
Was there anything I could do for this woman, I wondered, but my thought was interrupted by the Township Employee asking how she could help me. I’m here to donate to the food pantry. Do you want a receipt? No thanks. Just leave the bag on the chair next to you. Thank you for your donation. All the while, I’m watching this woman search in vain for something that proved who she lived within the Township.
I thanked the employee and walked out the door and down the stairs, but I kept thinking “what can I do to help this woman?” I had $20 in my purse. Should I give it to her when she came out empty handed? Should I offer to take her to the grocery store and buy her a few groceries just to get her through? I waited for her in the front parking lot, but she must have exited through the back door.
I desperately wanted to help this woman.
About five hours later I walked into my house, but I still couldn’t get this woman out of my mind. Why hadn’t I done something? Why hadn’t the Township Employee asked her to recite her address and compare it to what was in the computer?
And then it dawned on me. Maybe the Township Employee let the woman take a few items from my bag before she processed it for the food pantry. Yes, hopefully that’s what happened.
About an hour later, I had another thought. I literally held the answer in my hands while I stood waiting in the Township Office.
Let me repeat that . . . I literally held the solution to the problem in my hands.
WHY DIDN’T I JUST GIVE THE WOMAN MY BAG OF GROCERIES RATHER THAN DONATE IT?
I thought I was being mindful and fully present in the minutes I waited in the Township Office, but I couldn’t see the answer that was in my hands.
What did I learn? My daily mindfulness practice obviously needs some more practice. The good news is my heart was in the right place as I tried to think of ways to help the woman in front of me. The other good news is that I fairly quickly realized (6 hours is pretty good) the most obvious solution and that I wasn’t as present as I thought I was.
We all have work to do.
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