Everyone has their own voice to follow

Published 9:51 am Wednesday, June 24, 2009

As the elderly lady in front of you in the grocery store check-out line slowly fumbles through her purse, you stand stoically, displaying no outward sign of emotion.

Inside, however, you are fuming. “I knew it! I knew this would happen,” you are thinking. “Every time I choose a line, this happens. And it’s always when I’m in a hurry. Why does this always happen to me?”

Finally, she finds her card, slides it through the portal and slowly punches in her access code.

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The steaks, beer, chicken wings, candy, potato chips, pop and other groceries you have piled onto the conveyor dwarf the $23 worth of necessities she is attempting to purchase. She has barely a bag-full of items to carry from the store.

“Why is this taking so long?!” you think to yourself, growing more impatient with each passing second.

Finally, the marathon transaction goes through. You see the cashier stare at the computer screen, presumably waiting for a printed receipt.

Then you find out otherwise.

“I’m sorry,” you hear the cashier say to the woman. “Your card has been denied.”

Now you’re really ticked off. You instantly glance around and notice that everyone who was in other lines just minutes before is now gone; paid and on their way. But you are stuck behind a roadblock constructed with the likes of instant mashed potatoes and chicken noodle soup.

Next, you hear the words that test your soul and force you to make a choice: “I don’t have any other way to pay,” the woman says.

In a split second, hundreds of thoughts and emotions are separately and privately shared among the cashier, the elderly woman, and you.

The cashier, who makes minimum wage, sees this scenario unfold every day. She has witnessed the despair on so many faces as they have left their groceries behind and exited the store empty-handed, often with confused children in tow. She takes those thoughts and feelings home with her every time it happens. Sadly, she isn’t in a position to help these misfortunate people.

The elderly woman is embarrassed and ashamed that she is unable to pay for such a small purchase. She is wondering how she is going to survive the month without a means to afford the simple basics. The look in her eyes shows despair that you have been lucky enough to avoid in life.

You have at least $90 worth of food and other luxuries waiting to be scanned and bagged, the majority of which you could survive without. Paying your bill will not be a problem.

That’s when you hear the voice.

The voice gently asks you to pay for the woman’s groceries. “You have $23,” it says. “What if you were in her shoes?”

And then, it’s time to make a choice. In a matter of seconds, you have gone through what it took me 15 minutes to write.

What do you do? Do you offer to pay for the groceries, as your internal voice suggested, or do you pretend not to care and simply watch her leave the store empty-handed?

I personally believe we all have an instinctive desire to help one another. Sadly, I also believe that these emotions can become calloused if continually left unattended.

Mostly, I believe that all of our choices in life are going to matter more one day than we know.

When that day comes, will we wish we’d have parted with the $23?

Do you listen to your voice?

Billy Bruce is a freelance writer who lives in Pedro. He can be contacted at hollandkat3@aol.com or by visiting his website, billybruce45.com.