I'm not sure what it is about this particular parking lot; it could be the poor layout or the high percentage of elderly people, or the diverse neighborhood. I have always loved living in a racially, culturally and religiously diverse area. Homogenousness disorients me. But often times it seems diversity breeds disagreement. It's a consequence I'll happily accept, though it's not always pleasant. Whatever the reason, something about this place guarantees that I will hear horns and see swears and hand gestures every time I am there. Once as I was trying to get Emerie out of her car seat, Mirabella at my side, the woman who had been parked beside me talking on her phone rolled down her window and said, "I need to pull out, and I don't want to hit your kid."
Incredulous, I said, "Hold on just a second, I'm still getting my baby out of the car." She looked annoyed. On another recent trip, I saw a woman yelling at another who had tapped her bumper while pulling too far into a spot.
"Your car's not even damaged!" The very clearly pregnant defendant cried.
"We don't know that!" Her accuser yelled, "Not until I drive it! Look, I don't want to upset you, because I can see that your pregnant, but you hit my car." Police were summoned. People fight for spots, even when there are some in clear sight. On my way in Sunday I saw several seemingly mild-mannered women shout obscenities at other drivers.
Now here's where it stops being about everyone else. It's easy to condemn others for their actions and attitudes. Believe me, I'm good at it. But after being in this lot for a minute, I heard myself sarcastically laughing at a driver who was trying to go around me as I waited for a car in front of me to park. "Hold on, honey," I told her, "What's the rush?" Not a minute later, as I waited for an elderly driver to decide where she was going, "Oh, just park already!" I shouted. I heard it as soon as I said it. I am no better. Over the last few months, I get angry quickly and often without just cause. I vividly remember my verbal fisticuffs with another shopper when I was pregnant with Mirabella; it scared my sister. I feel like that a lot lately, but I don't have a pregnancy to blame it on. It has gotten to the point that I brought it up in my small group as a prayer need. I am not sure what is at the root of it, but it has to stop. I'm not the person I want to be.
So when I heard myself hurrying the old lady so I could get into Trader Joe's faster, I made a decision-- or maybe more of a plea. Lord, please give me opportunities to show grace. After that, I smiled when drivers pretended not to see me as I walked across the parking lot. I tried to see it as an opportunity.
In the store, having collected what was on my list and then some, I stood in the checkout line behind an African woman-- likely from Ghana or Nigeria, I couldn't tell which. She was dressed as if she had come from church. Trader Joe's doesn't have a conveyor belt, just a counter, so she was taking items from her cart-- a bag of apples, a chicken, another bag of apples-- placing them on the counter and asking the cashier what each cost. She looked embarrassed and was clearly fretting over what would have to go back. I stood watching. The cashier said, "Are you getting these, or are you still deciding? It's no rush." I could see that this was just the kind of opportunity I had been asking for. I felt butterflies, wondering what I should do; what I would say.
Finally, I approached her. "Ma'am," I said, touching her arm, "Please pay for whatever you can afford, and let me cover the rest. I would really like to do this for you."
Her eyes grew wide, "You mean...you want to pay?"
"Yes," I said. "Please just pay for however much you can, and we'll do a separate transaction. I will pay for the rest." She stood staring for a while.
"Are you a Christian?" she asked.
"I am. Are you?" She nodded.
"Oh, the Lord bless you," she said in her lovely accent, " I am just so touched." I went to put my arm around her, awkwardly, and she hugged me.
"I am so happy to be able to do this," I said. She paid for her portion and we instructed the cashier to ring the rest up. We stood in awkward silence while we waited. And when I swiped my card I felt the weight of something much bigger. I was paying for $38 worth of groceries. Though the coincidence of the amount struck me, it was not a large sum. But as I signed my name to cover her debt and saw her visible gratitude, I couldn't help but think of the infinitely larger debt that has been covered for me, for all of us, and I welled up.
As she steered her cart around me and the befuddled cashier, she said, "Thank you so much. I am just so moved. I have to get out of here because I feel like crying. But thank you. God bless you." I smiled and wished her blessings and said you're welcome. I never know what to say.
As I started bagging my groceries the cashier squinted at me. "Is she a friend of yours?"
"No," I said.
"That was really kind of you," she said. I shrugged. And this is the part where I always struggle. I am not an evangelist. I have never been comfortable with approaching people on the street or forcing God into a conversation. It just doesn't seem authentic to me. And while maybe it works for others, I have mostly abandoned it. It's why this idea of intentional living is so attractive to me, this idea that if we treat everyone like they matter, we can accomplish the same goal. And mostly, I think it works. But it only brings me so far. It brings me to the point of a stranger asking me why I have showed another stranger kindness, and I choke.
I said something like, "I just feel like if I see something, and I am able to help, why wouldn't I?" I didn't mean to, but I gave myself the credit. I felt terrible. I tried to think of a way to salvage it, but the moment was gone. I knew that girl would tell her co-workers and friends later that day about the nice person who performed a random act of kindness, but that wasn't my intent. I could have talked about how I have been the person whose card was declined in the grocery line. I could have mentioned times when others have shown me grace for absolutely no reason. I could have said God has lavished his love on me, and I am called to lavish it on others. But I didn't. I walked out, humbled, grateful for the opportunity, and hopeful for another chance.