Early yesterday morning, I stopped for coffee at a large gas station/convenience store in a much bigger town than my own where I had gone for a teacher workshop for the day. I went in and headed over to pour my coffee. I noticed a rather scruffy looking, kind of dirty, down and out looking man who looked to be in about his mid to late 40's. He was holding very tightly to a well-worn bank envelope, holding it up close to his face, thumbing through it, with a cup of coffee, already poured, sitting there, steaming, on the ledge in front of him. My instinctual first two thoughts were: "Oh, poor guy, I hope he has enough money. If he doesn't, I can cover what he's missing, so he gets his cup of coffee" and "he looks like he might be either an alcoholic or a drug-abuser or a homeless person, who really NEEDS his cup of caffeine this morning." Yep, I made a quick judgement based on looks and actions, without really knowing anything about this man. We all do, and I don't really feel badly about it. I wasn't looking down on him for it, just assessing - too quickly - the situation and thinking I might be able to help.
I ended up in line behind him, and when it was his turn, the cashier, a middle aged short chunky woman with a nice smile, said brightly, "Good Morning, Gary." Ah, she knows him, I think. That's good. And he hands her his money without being told how much, so I started realizing he must be a regular. Also good, it seemed, somehow. Then, when she gave him his change, he held it out over a jar on the counter used to collect spare change and dollar bills for Muscular Dystrophy long enough to catch her eye. Then he dropped it in, and smiled a lopsided smile at the cashier, and she nodded back at him and said, "Thanks, Gary. Every little bit helps!" It was at that point I realized he was not an alcoholic, nor a drug abuser, nor even homeless - he was simply a little challenged in his abilities, and was probably a resident of an nearby adult home. That explained the envelope held right up to his nose. It wasn't that he didn't have enough - it was probably difficult for him to count the right amount out, or tell 1's from 10's maybe. Again, I didn't feel badly that I had misjudged him, because I wasn't judging him to look down my nose at him, just really making an assessment, based on the few observable things I could see.
Needless to say, when the cashier rang up MY coffee, and asked me if I wanted to donate a dollar to Muscular Dystrophy, I said "sure." I felt like, if that gentleman could donate HIS change, I could certainly spare a dollar of my own. The cashier then mentioned that a friend of hers had been in and was really grateful they were collecting money for that particular disease, because her sister had just been diagnosed with it, or something like that. I said, "well, it's a terrible disease," just to add something relevant to the conversation, and she responded with,"They all are, honey. They all are." And, she's absolutely right.
Those five minutes I spent in the Country Fair Store yesterday morning truly made a significant impact on my day. It is still reverberating through me today. I don't feel any pressing need to over anaylize it to death; it was just a good encounter, and a good set of circumstances with which to begin one's day. I'm glad it happened to me.