I had not consciously chosen the cashier farthest from the long lines of noisy grocery shoppers. Perhaps it was because I was feeling so exhausted that I was drawn to this quieter area.
Whatever the reason, it was somehow comforting to stand quietly without making decisions for a few moments. As soon as the two customers in front of me finished with the cashier, I could pay for my items and go. My teenage daughter stood behind me in line. Wearily I allowed my mind to slip into another world. Not until the middle-aged man ahead of me began to fidget did I realize that our line was not moving. Glancing to the far end of the counter, I saw four brown bags full of groceries loaded in a cart. A modestly dressed, white-haired woman was counting her cash onto the tabletop. Futiley she searched her purse for additional change, opening one compartment after another with trembling hands. Four pairs of eyes now focused in her direction.
As the tension mounted, I wished I were nearer to her. Yet this was a special group of strangers—all unusually patient, with not a hint of disgust or mockery on anyone’s face. I felt the flooding warmth of the Spirit as I almost heard the words that flowed into my mind: “Help her.”
“That’s all I have,” the elderly woman quietly said, abandoning her search.
Apologetically, the cashier removed a small sack of produce from the top of one brown bag and placed it on the scales. Its value was insufficient. His face registered embarrassment as he took a second bag of produce from her sack and weighed it.
“No, I need …” There was urgency in the woman’s voice as that second bag was removed.
Knowing that helping in the wrong way might create more awkwardness, I prayed silently. “Oh, Father, how?”
I could wait no longer. Better to try and be wrong than to wait.
Leaning across the customer ahead of me, I asked the cashier, “How much does she lack?”
“Ninety-five cents,” he said, his eyes speaking gratitude.
“Add it to my bill,” I replied. But the Spirit prompted, “Pay now.”
“Better yet, here is a dollar,” I said, and reached across my groceries and the man in front of me to lay it on the counter. Relief showed in his face. Apparently he had wanted to help but had not, known how. “I’ll divide the cost with you,” he said and immediately laid change on my dollar. I resisted the impulse to decline his offer and thanked him instead. Suddenly, I felt as though the heavens had opened, bathing our group in an unexpected warmth. We had all wanted to help.
Quickly the young cashier completed the register tape, placed it in the woman’s sack, and replaced her produce. Then, serenely, self-reliantly, the woman turned and faced us. Standing more erect and squaring her shoulders, she began, “To whom do I owe …”
Tears blurred my vision as I pleaded for help. “Oh, Father, give me the right words. She has been so brave. Please don’t let us hurt her.”
A reply tumbled effortlessly across my lips. “Someone who loves you, and who loves the Lord,” I heard myself saying. “Besides, you’d have done it for me.”
The white-haired stranger began to relax. A smile came slowly, thoughtfully to her face. Her shaking ceased.
“You know, I would have,” she said, as if she were surprised that I would know. Then, smiling broadly, she reaffirmed, “I really would have!”
With dignity she turned and pushed her grocery cart out the open door.
A sort of reverence lingered in our check-out aisle. Suddenly, I didn’t feel tired anymore. The customer in front of me began to whistle.
On the way home my daughter broke the silence. “Mother, that was really neat how you did that. It made everyone happy.”
“You know,” I said, “I really didn’t know how myself. The Spirit had to teach me. I only prayed for help.”