As I walked toward the entrance of Safeway, I passed a woman standing at her car with her hand on the hood. She was leaning over as if she was in pain. I glanced at first, and continued past her, taking a minute for circumspect to strike me. Then the pause.
I turned around and thoughfully approached her. "Are you okay?" I asked? She replied, "I'm just having one of those days. I can't seem to get to my truck." She was parked in the disabled spot.
"May I help you?" I asked. "Sure," she said smiling at me with apparent gratitude, and maybe some surprise.
She moved with painful deliberation as I gently took her arm and helped her into the truck. A few seconds later, a young employee of Safeway approached to see if he could help. He put her groceries into the back of the truck as I continued to help her into the vehicle.
She drove away grateful for the assistance.
I headed back toward the door of Safeway, about 40 feet from where this woman was struggling and walked past the holiday season staple: Salvation Army bell ringers. There were four of them posted at this single spot, one furiously text messaging, another talking on her cell phone; about five others posted another 20 feet away.
Again I hurriedly walked past them, and then I suddenly stopped. I walked back outside and looked at them. They were watching the woman as she drove away. They had seen her struggle to get to her vehicle as she had to walk past them to get to her truck. And I was both stunned and entertained at the irony: They were there collecting money so that they could help others in need.
Yet, right there, within their very view, was a person in need, someone they could have helped in this moment- not in some intangible way, but in a very authentic-in-the-moment-way. I felt like I was in a bad piece of satire: Saturday Night Live's caustic condemnation of human behavior comes to small town Arizona.
Where have we gone wrong that we don't pay attention to one another any longer? Why do some humans ignore their moral duty to help? What compels some to take the initiative to help even while others do not, or even while others will inflict direct harm? *(Milgram's experiments, while unethical, taught us a great deal about human behavior and helping/harming...)
It's easy to drop a dollar in the hungry metal bucket. It's easy to send a check in the mail to some obscure group that helps people who you will never know or meet or see. And they are, indeed, worthy and necessary causes to which others should give. But, there are so many more important things than fiscal responsibility to one another. There is a responsibility of compassion; kindness; mindfulness of suffering; advocacy for social justice; and our pause in recognition for their worthiness of our time. Those are the things that money cannot buy. Those are the things you will not find in any red bucket. And apparently, those are the things that are the most difficult to offer to another, if for no other reason than we mindlessly are unable to see the need as it arises. Those are also the most imposing tests of our own humanity.