This past weekend I found myself running errands and doing Christmasy stuff, probably like most of you. I stopped into a large department store and as I stood in line at the checkout counter I noticed the gentleman ahead of me. He was dressed very warmly and had what looked like a cart full of shopping bags. I paid no attention to his exchange with the sales lady until we were ALL listening to his exchange with the sales lady. He was attempting to purchase a very large beer and had his wallet extended while offering the sales person his identification, but she was having none of it.
This got my attention. As I peered in closer I noticed that his cart was not in fact full of purchases but what seemed to be his possessions. The sales lady was an older woman who appeared to be very shrewd and very no nonsense. Her eyebrows were drawn on and yet they still appeared furrowed and angry. She was loudly refusing to sell him the beer and he was loudly exclaiming that this was complete and utter bullshit. Naturally I could see both sides of this argument.
Now, I am normally not a get-involved-in-public-conflicts-kinda gal, but in this case I felt like there was a reason I was behind this guy in line. I don’t know if it was luck or maybe it was God if you believe in that sort of thing. Maybe it was Oprah Winfrey for all I know, but there I was, directly between a drunk and a hard face. She quickly glanced at me as she exclaimed, “I AM calling security!” to our apparently intoxicated comrade, who was still ranting.
“Hold up, I offered. I speak Alcoholic.” I swear to god y’all those words have never sprung from my lips but now that they have I think I like it. One could argue that alcoholics have their own language anyway given the sayings and mantras that go along with recovery programs. And as luck would have it, I speak alcoholic fluently.
Since there were around six to eight people behind me in line, she decided to let me go for it. She had a situation on her hands, after all. She resumed calling security but gave me a “knock yourself out, honey” nod.
I placed my hand on the gentleman’s arm and gently turned him towards me. “Hey. Hey there, sir. Sir. . . please. . . please calm down.” I spoke softly so he had to stop shouting in order to hear me. The minute I saw his features I could feel his pain. It was palpable. His long face was craggy and hardened, perhaps by time and maybe weather. He softened when he looked down at me. His eyes were large and watery and he smelled heavy of alcohol. His hands were shaking as he held his still-open wallet. We moved out of the way and stood together in the busy store.
“I just want to buy a goddamn beer”, he said. “I know, I replied, “but she’s sure as hell not going to sell it to you. She thinks you’ve had enough.”
He looked at me sadly. “But. . . she doesn’t understand.” And that part was certainly true. She did NOT understand. She did not understand that he needed that beer like a drowning man “needs” a life preserver. Does that mean she should sell it to him? No, of course not. Does that give him a right to disrupt a store and its employees and customers? Nope.
We sat down on a bench and waited for security together. As we chatted, I told him I was a drunk too which didn’t seem to surprise him and I’m still processing that. I told him that I know how much it sucks to have the shakes. I told him about the time I was shaking so badly that I had to go down the stairs on my ass one step at a time. That made him laugh and I joked back with mock offense at his laughter.
We waited on the bench and security did arrive. They were kind to my friend and gently asked him to come with them and they’d help him sort things out. They helped him stand up and he turned to me and smiled. “I do like your boots,” he said. I wasn’t expecting that and it made me laugh. “Thanks,” I said, and we both waved goodbye.
With that, they took him away. He was quietly muttering to the security guards and they appeared to be listening and I think in the end, that’s really all he wanted. He wanted to be heard. He wanted to matter. He wanted to stop living with the excruciating pain his existence had become and isn’t that really what we all want? We all want to matter and be heard. No one wants to live in isolation and pain. We need each other folks and it’s getting more and more imperative every day and I’m not just talking Trump administration-dystopia but globally. Like it or not, we’re one people on one damn planet.
When I awoke this morning the headline on my computer news homepage was “Little girl asks Santa for food” and there was a heartbreaking story that followed detailing a young girl’s letter to Santa and the subsequent donations that came forth after the story had gone viral. Thankfully, it had a happy ending. This time of year is hard and it’s easy to feel defeated before you’ve had your first cup of morning coffee. In that spirit, we can each do what we can to try to help where we can.
I didn’t save him. I didn’t have any money to give him. I didn’t even point him in the direction of the local area mission. I just sat with him.
I was kind, and to their credit, so were the security staff and sometimes that’s the only thing we can do. So, if the opportunity presents itself, I implore you; be kind.
You don’t need a season or a reason. And trust me, it’s a gift we all can share.