Buddy can you spare a dime?

On Thanksgiving I was talking with my friend Nancy, who works at Manna Food Bank, about our drive at work to raise money for them.  We have a Manna display in front of each cash register and ask customers if they wish to donate.  Some of us do it better than others.  I do it well sometimes, not so well other times.

It was great to get Nancy, who is so close to the action, talking about where the money goes.  She was talking about “food insecurity”.  The vast majority of people helped by Manna are not street people – they are working poor who at certain times in the month don’t know where their next meal is coming from.  They may have to choose between food and paying a utility bill.

We had a pretty fabulous spread at Thanksgiving - wonderful food, beautifully prepared, abundant.

We had a pretty fabulous spread at Thanksgiving – wonderful food, beautifully prepared, abundant.

My plate - I ate well, and I had been to another feast a few hours earlier.

My plate – I ate well, and I had been to another feast a few hours earlier.

I liked getting a better picture of the issue because I am not all that great at asking for money.  When I am “pumped up” (manic), I’m pretty good at it.  I don’t take it personal when people say “No” – it just feels good to ask, to feel like I’m doing my part for the cause.  When I’m depressed, the “No”s feel punishing – they grind me down.  I just don’t have the energy to ask.

My friend Feather who I worked with at another store said of these kinds of drives, “You’ve got to not care whether they give or not.”  There’s a lot of wisdom in that – and it has helped me hang in there.  But now I think I’m taking it a step farther.

When I am asked to give money – at a cash register, on the phone, or on the street – sometimes I give and sometimes I don’t.  I don’t always know why.  I’m fortunate enough that usually there is at least a little bit of money in my checking account at the end of the month – I usually could give a buck or a few bucks.  It’s not as simple as mania and depression – they don’t directly correlate to giving or not giving.  I just know that sometimes it feels right to say “Yes” and other times the only authentic answer i can come up with is “No”.

Sometimes to come up with an authentic "yes" or an authentic "no" is a victory in itself.

Sometimes to come up with an authentic “yes” or an authentic “no” is a victory in itself.

If sometimes my genuine (healthy?) answer is “No” – and I don’t know why and can’t predict when – then who am I to know what is right for the person on the other side of the cash register?  This may be a moment where saying “No” is a truly life-affirming thing for them.

So now when I pump myself up to ask for money for Manna Food Bank, I coach myself with three points:

  1. Don’t profile them. That skinny little girl who you assumed had no money gave $5.  The gruff guy who you assumed would bark at you gave $2.
  2. Give them a chance to give.  Giving feels good.  If you don’t ask, you are depriving them of a chance to feel good.
  3. Get over the idea that you know what’s right for them to do.  It’s deeper than “don’t care”.  Go ahead and care about them – and want them to do what’s right for them to do.  And you don’t know what that is.

For me, the deepest reason for asking is that it gives me the chance to practice humility, to practice not knowing, to practice letting go.  There is no deeper life lesson.  I don’t want to miss a chance to practice that.

 

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“I need a supervisor!”

I guess I just needed to throw a fake tantrum.

It was the day before Thanksgiving – the busiest grocery store day of the year.  The previous day (the second busiest day of the year?), the pace had also been very intense, but the whole atmosphere had felt really festive.  I had fun.  Was today more intense because the holiday is right on us?  Or was I just more worn down?  Maybe both.  I had been going full-throttle, no slack moments, for two hours and was due for a break.  I guess I was also due to snap.

The day before Thanksgiving - some people are doing their whole big shopping trip and some are grabbing things they forgot to get last time.  The lines are long. Customers and cashiers are stressed.

The day before Thanksgiving – some people are doing their whole big shopping trip and some are grabbing things they forgot to get last time. The lines are long. Customers and cashiers are stressed.

 

My customer – a very pleasant, somewhat stocky 60ish woman – pulled a paper shopping bag off the stack to bag her groceries.  (We don’t have baggers and are glad to bag for people, though most of our customers seem very happy to bag for themselves.)  She said, a little frustrated but not apparently irritated, “This bag has a hole in it.”  She set it aside and picked up another.  “And this one is missing a handle.”

I took a step over to the faulty bags.  “No handle?!” And I threw it violently on the floor.  “A hole?!!” Throwing it on the floor.  “This is terrible.  I need a supervisor!” (Loud enough to sound like I was yelling, but not loud enough to actually get the attention of a supervisor.)

By this point, I was really having fun – and I could tell, out of the corner of my eye, that the customer was enjoying my theatrics, so I leaned into the tantrum act even a little more.  I kicked the bags back to where I had just been standing, then stomped on them.  Sherry Lynn, who was working back-to-back with me, stopped what she was doing to watch all of this, but we goof around all the time and she obviously knew I was playing.

“This is disgusting.  Something’s got to be done about this.”  Then I went back to ringing up my customer’s groceries as if nothing had ever happened – and she picked up a functional bag and commenced bagging.  I winked at her and she winked back.

My break was a half-hour late in coming, but my stress had been released and I was in a great mood.  When I did get my ten-minute break, I spent it furiously writing this post.  I have a pretty strong hunch that my customer left the store in a good mood too.

“I could use a blessing right now.”

Julie was 40ish, 5’2″, cute, sweet, gentle and even as she walked up to my register I thought she seemed a bit wistful (but I so sometimes make shit up in my head, so I wasn’t sure).  I asked her how she was spending her Thanksgiving.

Packaged cranberries are fine, but I love them floating around in the bin.

Packaged cranberries are fine, but I love them floating around in the bin.

“Just a low-key time at home.”

“Oh, by yourself or with friends?”

I've got a hunch Julie wasn't having a turkey.

I’ve got a hunch Julie wasn’t having a turkey.

 

“Just by myself.”

I was searching for some element that could make this a positive, life-affirming experience.  I asked

“Do you have any little rituals that make the day special for you?”

“No.  when I used to eat meat there were things I used to do, but not now.”

(I was not sure what meat-eating rituals there might be, but chose not to follow that one up.)

I was stuck.  We were down to her last few items to ring through and there were people behind her.  She was keeping on a game face, but I sure got sadness from her.  I wanted to do something, but I needed to do it fast.

She gave me just the opening I needed.  She asked me,

“Do you have any rituals?”

“Yes, in fact I have a ritual for blessing food that I like a real lot.  You could use it if you want – I’ve        posted it online.”

Thich Nhat Hanh blesses food by acknowledging its connection with all of life - see 11/25 post

Thich Nhat Hanh blesses food by acknowledging its connection with all of life – see 11/25 post

 

Julie brightened right up.

“Oh, I could use a blessing right now – where would I find it?”

“Google ‘Real life in the checkout line.’  Leave a comment about how it worked for you.  My email address is in the right column.  I’d love to hear from you.”

Julie left with a spring in her step.  And I stood taller.  I had the highlight for my day.