I looked at him and smiled and said, why not! He's not with me but maybe I should pay for everybody! The drinks are on me! We were all laughing and I was feeling very cheerful and it seemed like a neat thing to do to pay for the other people in line. Then I glanced at the other man standing next to me, who looked like Yosemite Sam. He was buying a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of Thunderbird wine. In a split second I decided that I really didn't want to buy his stuff for him and I made some kind of moronic comment like, gee, maybe next time.
I smiled at him sheepishly and he looked at me and asked me quietly if I knew how to get to a certain town. I told him I didn't know and so forth and we exchanged a couple of pleasantries and I was feeling kind of embarrassed because I had made a sweeping gesture of generosity which I then retracted.
I retracted it because I judged him. He was buried under a hedge of unkempt hair stuffed into a baseball cap. His little eyes peeped at me from behind thick glasses, which were perched on a little nose engulfed in a ZZ-top beard. He wore a very dirty t-shirt and jeans. No telling how old the guy was. You couldn't even really see "him" behind all the hair and the glasses and the beard.
I made a quick assessment that I didn't want to buy those things for that guy and in a flash I knew that my judgemental mind was much worse than the unworthiness I deemed his purchases. I could have so easily performed a little act of uncalculated kindness. I regretted my decision immediately but it would have been very awkward to flip flop back - so I just thanked the lady and mumbled a goodbye, and left with what could have been a great feeling, but instead had a mixture of shame and embarrassment.
My husband and I read a book by Kenneth Ring called "Lessons from the Light", a book about near-death experiences and the effect that they have on people. Mr. Ring interviewed many "NDE-ers" and realized that the general populace could glean the lessons of the NDE without actually having one. One of the most poignant aspects of the NDE was the "life review". NDE-ers witness a sort of video tape of their life, of all their deeds, bad or good, and the effects of their deeds on others. They even witness the emotions of those affected by their deeds -- joy and pain - everything.
When I brushed that man aside because of his appearance and his purchases, I realized how many other people I must have disregarded so easily in a similar way throughout my life. I realized how many human beings have been passed over by people who didn't actually have malice in their hearts but who also didn't regard them with careful sincerity and God centered love.
A neighbor and I were talking the other day and he told me that his wife was at a beauty shop getting her nails done. An old woman was sitting near her, smiling and watching in fascination as the beauty stylist did the old woman's nails. She had received the manicure as a gift from a friend. Suddenly the old woman started to sob. The stylist looked up shocked and asked her what was wrong? The old woman said she had never had any one take care of her like that before in her whole life.
It is easy to notice the macro problems of humanity. Most can agree that peace on earth and good will toward men would be a good thing, but it's hard to imagine what that means in the fine details. Sometimes it comes down to how we treat the grocery clerk, fellow drivers on the road, the waitress, the car mechanic, the fast food worker, even the unwanted telemarketer on the phone.
One way to make it happen is to pray for a deliberate change to take place in our conscious minds to the degree that God can indiscriminately use us to love everyone in our path.
Sometimes our own concepts are the worst impediment to being like that, but if we could transform enmasse what a wonderful world it would be.
[written on July 15, 2004]
Kim lives in Maine, which is lovely, and where she continues her enthusiastic relationship with Art, Music, Nature, Books, Animals, Humor and Trees.