Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The best way to get over our problems is to help someone else

I've been in a cranky mood lately. One of the reasons is that I didn't get to rest this weekend. I need at least a day to myself every week to be functional. Another reason is that the people around me seem to be constantly giving me advice that I haven't asked for--advice on being sexier or being calmer or god knows what else. Guys, I'm doing the best I can. Just everyone leave me alone! That's what I was thinking when I went to Wholefoods to buy some groceries.

Having picked up the couple of things I needed, I was walking back to my car. A tall African American man, in his early twenties, approached me and mumbled something. It was dark but I wasn't afraid. Once you've lived in New York and ridden the subways at 11 pm, it's hard to be afraid in a Wholefoods parking lot in Petaluma at 6 pm.

"I'm sorry. I didn't hear you," I said.
"Can you help me buy some food?" he asked.

I looked at him. His clothes were clean, his eyes were sharp, and his demeanor was respectful but not subservient. He kind of looked like a young Barack Obama. I liked him. I paused to think.
How could I really know that he was going to buy food?

"I'd be happy to do work for the money," he said.

I wasn't in a hurry to go home. "Let's go food shopping," I said.

"Really?" His face lit up.

So we grabbed a cart and went back to Whole Foods.

"Can I buy some raw food? I love salads and vegetables," he said.

"Of course." I watched as he took a small bag and started filling it up with greens. "Why don't you get a big bag of salad?" I said. Hell, salad wasn't expensive.

His face lit up some more as he put the greens in the bigger bag. He looked at the fruit and I nodded for him to go ahead. He picked up two apples. I was impressed by how careful he was to not spend too much. We went to the salad dressings and I watched as he carefully compared prices to save me money.

We passed by the fish counter. "Do you like fish?" I asked.
"I love it!" was his reply.
"Well, let's get some."
He asked the guy at the counter which was the fishiest fish. The sales guy pointed to the most inexpensive salmon. I was wondering how much he would want, when I heard him ask for half a pound. Ok, that was reasonable. Then the sales guy gave him a package of smoked fish, for free. I was surprised. Clearly the universe was supporting my friend.

"My name is M..." he finally introduced himself. I told him my name and asked him what had happened that he was having a hard time. He had been a bus boy and had lost his job. He was looking for another job to support himself. He really wanted to be a photographer and was saving money to get a camera.

I wanted to make sure that he would have enough staples to get him through. Down the aisles we went as we picked up eggs, crackers, pasta, pasta sauce, beans, etc. Did he want anything sweet? I asked him, knowing that I would be hitting the chocolate if I were in his shoes. No, was his reply. He had cut out sweets a while ago. Well, he sure was eating healthier than me.

By the time we were finished he had three big bags of groceries. That was the best $100 I've spent. I got ready to say good bye to him. "I want to walk you to your car," he said. Carrying the three bags he walked me to my car. He had a long way to go. He was going to take the bus to Marin City. I was concerned about how he could carry everything. He wasn't concerned. He was happy. He never imagined that he would be going home with so much.

"I really want to give something back to you," he said.
"No need," I replied. "Pay it forward. You can help someone else in the future. It wasn't that long ago when I had no income and would come to this same Whole Foods because they give out a lot of samples. Sometimes that would be lunch--cheese and crackers and fruit that were samples. But I can tell you this. Things change in the blink of an eye. And I know you're going to be OK."

He smiled and I hugged him good bye. I knew he was going to be OK. He was asking for help, but he wasn't being a victim. He was taking responsibility for his life, and he would be fine.

I came home feeling good. What problems was I having? I couldn't remember, nor did I want to. I was feeling too happy--happy that I had connected with this beautiful, young man and grateful that I was able to help him. Actually, he was the one who had given me a gift. After so many hurtful experiences from helping "friends" I didn't think that I would be willing to help anyone again. I certainly wasn't going to help someone out of obligation. But giving to M... came from my heart and was received well by him. I remembered what true generosity feels like. It feels like love.

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