I was in a hurry.
I was passing through one of the worst parts of our city.
I had to get home to pick up my daughter to take her to her club, but there was a shop in the area I wanted to run into for a minute.
Simply getting from my car to the shop is always an ordeal.
People accost me in the parking lot, trying to sell me things I can’t use.
I navigated past a man trying to sell me a flashlight that doubles as a stun gun.
As I opened the door to the shop, I noticed an elderly lady leaning against the wall.
I am embarrassed to say that my first thought was…
“She’s going to ask me for money.”
I overrode this fear and said “Hello” to her as I was entering the building.
I found nothing I desired inside.
Upon exiting the lady asked me if I was going very far.
I pointed in the direction I was heading and she asked me if I would take her to the grocery.
I was not concerned for my safety.
She must have been at least 80 and it took me nearly three minutes just to help her into the car.
She observed my Bernie Sanders stickers (I currently have 11 different Bernie stickers on my vehicle).
She asked me if that was for my job.
I said “It’s for Bernie Sanders. He is running for President of the United States.”
“Do you work for him?”
I figured the shortest answer was to say “Yes” so I did, just as we were pulling into the grocery parking lot.
“Does he pay you well?”
I smiled at this.
“No actually I pay him.”
I pulled up to the door and helped her inside.
“Are you a Christian?” she asked.
This lady was asking me a lot of questions that required long answers and all I had time for were one-liners.
“No.” I replied.
“But you help people.” she said, half asking.
She looked perplexed.
Perhaps she had a stereotype about non-Christians, that they weren’t good people.
“I try.” I said.
She looked at me very intently and said
“I am a child of God. The Sun shines through me.”
“I believe you.” I said.
I had to go.
My humanitarian efforts were making me late.
As I was getting back in my car, she said
“Every day I struggle to find food. I scrape together $20 and go to the grocery. That last me for a few days and then I am hungry, so I go walking around until I gather up enough money to eat again.”
I asked a stupid question…
“Don’t you get Social Security?”
“I do” she said “and that pays my rent, but it doesn’t pay for food and I never know if I will be able to keep the electric on each month.”
I was living inside my head.
I was thinking about how Bernie Sanders will expand Social Security and how millions of Americans live just like this poor lady.
I was thinking about how I need to work harder to get Bernie elected.
I was thinking about how the Republicans were always trying to cut Social Security.
I was thinking about what I could sacrifice, so that I could go home and donate to the campaign again.
And that got me to thinking about how little funds I have right now and how my car has issues that I need to have fixed and how my body has some things going on with it recently that I need to get checked out (my left side had been weak and tingling and I didn’t know what was causing it.)
And I was thinking about how I was late picking Chloe up and how I had to go.
I forgot that there was a human being standing in front of me.
I saw her, without seeing her.
“Be careful getting into cars with strangers.” I said “Not everyone is nice.”
With that, I drove away, leaving her standing there in front of the grocery.
I was already a mile down the road before I stopped thinking about the tingling in my face and realized that I had completely blown an opportunity to help someone in need.
This lady wasn’t like the junkies who converge on me at the gas station.
My father’s alcoholism destroyed our family.
As a result, I’ve had a lot of anger to work through with drug addicts asking me for money.
I used to just glare at them.
I used to have to fight back the urge to humiliate them.
People often tell me that I am compassionate and non-judgmental.
They don’t know.
I am a work in progress and I used to be extremely angry at those I believed weren’t doing their best.
Once, when I had a mini-van full of kids, I got out at the Chuck E Cheese for my daughter’s birthday party.
A man approached me and asked for money.
I escorted the kids inside and then returned to the parking lot and said to the man…
“I am a single father!! I work my ass off!! I have three jobs!! You give me money!!”
He walked away.
I still carry some of that anger with me, despite working on it for years.
I still feel that many people make life choices that are selfish, but I also know that many people are doing their best and their best just isn’t good enough.
The lady I abandoned at the grocery definitely fit into the latter category.
I should have helped her.
Instead I had my head up my ass and was only focused on my own troubles.
I got Chloe to her club on time.
I went to a nearby coffee shop with my laptop and worked on some projects for Bernie Sanders.
I was really into the projects and the coffee was amazing.
I drank a lot of coffee and was too involved with working to stop for food.
When I picked up Chloe, the tingling and weakness on my left side had become severe.
I also was having some trouble breathing.
I was scared.
I went into the bathroom.
I wanted to be alone.
I didn’t want my family to know what was going on.
I didn’t want them to worry.
I used my phone to Google the symptoms.
“nausea, weakness and tingling on left side of body, blurred vision, trouble breathing”
For more than a decade I suffered from debilitating anxiety.
I went to therapy and read a lot of books.
I changed my lifestyle.
I got it under control.
Now I am a pretty anxious person, but it had been over a year since I had an anxiety attack and nothing I had ever had was like what I was experiencing alone in the bathroom.
After reading several articles, it seemed that I had some new (to me) form of anxiety attack or that I was having a stroke.
I didn’t know what to do.
It was either everything or it was nothing.
I was afraid to go to the hospital, but I was afraid not to.
I was there all night.
I took my Bernie Sanders autobiography with me.
Between tests I read it.
It really helped with the fear.
When you read Outsider in the White House it’s like Bernie is speaking directly to you.
That was very comforting to me at this time.
They said that they think that maybe I had a small stroke and that it was good that I came in.
They ran an EKG.
All was fine.
I read forty more pages.
They took blood.
We waited for results.
I read forty more pages.
All was fine.
Then they wheeled me into a room for a CAT scan.
We waited for results.
I read forty more pages.
The doctor came in and told me that I was healthy.
I was relieved and felt silly.
I kept thinking about the lady at the grocery.
Bernie would have helped her and so would I usually.
Why did I just drive away?
It was late when I arrived home.
I put on X-Files and fell asleep.
In the morning I went to the bank and found out that my account had less money than I thought it did.
I was upset about it.
Also I was upset at myself for being upset.
Just a few hours earlier I thought that I had a stroke.
Now I was worried about a few hundred dollars.
I sat in my car and watched the rain and sadness began to creep over me.
I knew how to solve it.
I drove back to the area where the child of God had been searching for food.
I was going to find her and I was going to take her grocery shopping.
Then I was going to drive her home and figure out other ways I could help her.
I am an incredibly selfish person.
I know that I hide my motivations from myself.
I have a philosophy degree.
I know that I probably help people because I love the good feeling it gives me.
I know all about psychological egoism.
I know I’m a selfish prick and I’m okay with that.
I like to express my selfishness in ways that help others.
I drove all over the neighborhood.
How hard could it be to find someone who had “The Sun shining through them” on such a gray and rainy day?
She was not at the pawn shop, the gas station or the grocery.
She wasn’t down any side street and when I asked the people I seen walking if they had seen her, they did not know who I was talking about.
They just asked me for cigarettes.
She was nowhere.
She was sitting in a cold house somewhere, wondering if there was any point in braving the cold rain to find someone to feed her.
And I was sitting in my warm car, wondering how I had ever let such a chance slip away.