Yesterday I got an unintentional lesson in privilege. It didn’t even strike me at the time, which is probably the worst part.
It’s after midweek church, and we are driving home. Sometimes after church we stop at Chikfila for a milkshake. So it’s no surprise when tonight Theo declares, “Want to stop and get some milkshake.” Since it’s been a long day (with no nap), we quickly decide against it. Instead, we stop at the grocery store to pick up some needed items, as well as some ice cream to make shakes at home another day.
Currently, we are on a cash budget, to better keep track of what we spend. It’s been challenging for sure – it’s much easier to just whip out my debit card than have to think about how much cash to carry. But for the most part, it’s been pretty smooth for us.
I opt to run in, since I know what we need and can make the trip quickly. It’s nice to have the chance to go without kids. I grab four things – toothpaste, trash bags, turkey breast, and the ice cream. I calculate it quickly and am pretty sure I have enough.
Even though I usually go for the self-checkout, tonight I make eye contact with a cashier and feel like I can’t avoid her line. I give her my items, we chat.
The total comes up at $26.11. I know I have a $20 and some ones. But as we chat, I’m adding it all up, and realizing I’m two dollars short. I dig in my change pocket.
“You don’t take Susan B. Anthony dollars, do you?” I ask in what I hope is a lighthearted way. Actually, I’m pretty embarrassed. The cashier is kind, but not sure.
I dig some more, hoping a dollar magically appears. I throw my husband under the bus, saying he has us on this cash system that is a pain in the butt. (Sorry, Babe!) I’m growing more self-conscious and embarrassed, and start contemplating which item I’ll remove. (Ice cream, for the record.)
It’s in the back of my mind to just use the debit card already, save myself from this awkward moment of not having what I need. But I can’t imagine explaining to James that I had to use it because of one dollar.
My cashier calls to another to ask about the Susan B. Anthony dollar. The other takes it, looks at it for a moment, then pulls some cash out of her pocket, exchanging the dollar coin for a dollar bill, effectively paying off the amount. “My daughter will love this!” She says.
But I can’t help feeling like she just did it out of kindness, to spare me having to put something back. I thank the cashiers, grab the bags, and rush out to the car, with every intention of letting my husband have it for this stupid cash budget. Imagine, making me look like I can’t afford toothpaste! What are we, a charity case?
While James gets Theo to settle down, I calm down, too. In the short time it takes to get home, I am feeling rather sheepish.
When is the last time I legitimately could not pay in the checkout line? And not had a debit card or a friend or family member to bail me out? I can’t think of a time. I’ve never had to seriously had to choose between trash bags and toothpaste for my house over our last few dollars. I’ve never had to use food stamps, or accept free food because I have none.
And I have the audacity to feel shame over a dollar. And to feel embarrassment instead of gratitude to these very kind women.
I am praying lately for God to help me see things the way he does. I desire to have compassion for those in need, but it’s hard to do when you don’t see need. I believe this situation is an answer to that prayer, an opportunity to see life a little differently, to step in someone else’s shoes. It opens my eyes to how easy life is for me, and how difficult it could be.
What’s next? I’m honestly not sure where to start. It would be sad to waste this experience by not responding to it. What are some ways you fill needs as you see them?