Thirty Dollars and Forty Cents

“Thirty dollars and forty cents,” the checker tells the couple. I’m third in line, and the carts are backing up behind me.

“Your debit card is declined, balance too low.” The couple is using the state system for food assistance. The woman looks at the ground and shakes her head. The man offers his card instead. We wait for the checker to reset the system. His card is rejected too. We wait for the reset again.

People are being polite, no one says anything, but I feel an impatient tension rising. I only have three items. The young man in the jean jacket in front of me has one.

A tangle of emotions forms a knot that threads back and forth in a small loop between my shoulder blades. I feel empathy for the couple who don’t have enough money to buy a meager parcel of groceries. And I have to admit, I’m irritated at the delay. And, I’m also a little ashamed that I’m irritated. But I know you can’t unfeel emotions that are present, so I stand there and try to pay attention to my knotted shoulders while I wait.

The woman starts pulling items from the bag, picking out what to return. The knot at my shoulders sinks lower like a lead weight. I take a long breath and try to soften the knot, but it sits there, prickly and heavy. I wonder if I should pull out my wallet and pay for the groceries. Would the couple be grateful or offended? I would have to squeeze past the guy in the jean jacket. Would that call more attention? What’s more important, saving embarrassment or providing food? Am I doing it to relieve my discomfort, or to hurry things along? I stand there watching, stuck.

Before I can decide, the checker says, “That’ll do it, you’re good,” and finishes their purchase.

As they leave, the man turns and says to us, “Sorry for taking so long. I know you all have families you’re trying to get home to.”

The fellow in the jean jacket says, “No worries.” I nod and flash him the peace sign. Our eyes meet and he nods back.

The checker pushes the returned items to the back of his workspace. “Sorry everybody, that took a while.”

“It’s no problem,” I say, “we’re all trying to get through our day.”

As I head out of the store, the evening light is leaning toward dusk. Now that I’m moving, the knot has started to unravel, but my chest is still heavy. I think about the couple as I sit in my car. I enter into prayer.

In my practice, prayer is not a request to an external Being. It is more a way of deepening my relationship with a person, event or circumstance, of joining with, of silent togetherness. It’s a chance for me to show concern and give love. Not as a separate individual sending well wishes to another but as part of a mutual experience of direct empathy.

I sit with my knot of jangled emotions but I look for the silence that is always just beneath. When I feel settled, I bring the couple to mind. I imagine placing my heart into each of their hearts and looking out at the world from within their consciousness, feeling the world as they do. I try to imagine the stress and worry of not having enough to eat, of knowing I have drained my account for the small sack I am carrying, of wondering what I will do tomorrow. I hold them and me, with all our feelings, concerns and wishes, in this one heart.

This way of prayer as energetic joining has an effect on me and, I believe, an effect on them. For me, it broadens my perspective on what my life is about. It reduces my tendency to be frustrated by daily irritations. It makes me more receptive to the energy of others.

And for them, because we are all connected in ways we cannot see, I feel they benefit as well. My hope is that their perspective broadens too, that they gain some comfort from our common empathy, that they sense their worries are shared and they are not alone in their troubles.

Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash

6 Replies to “Thirty Dollars and Forty Cents”

  1. I certainly identify with the confusion over what course of action is required of me by life when confronted with fate. So many possibilities and only one right answer! Or, if there is no one right answer, at least there is a better choice. And since no circumstance repeats itself even experience is not always a reliable guide to right action and right conduct.

    That leaves intuition.

    1. Often I find myself in that grocery line when time for prayer requests comes. What is really important and helpful seems impossible to put into words. I have sensed a calling to be a healer in situations like the grocery line.

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