Last night, while at Walmart, I encountered one of those women I’ve seen on YouTube as they humiliate people in line for having state assistance. I had never seen one before that was talking to me about another person (the only time I had dealt with it was when I was on it)….
So, I’m walking through the line on my phone and checking my fb because I know at Walmart, it takes at least 20 minutes to get out of there. I plan for that because it’s never ever less. haha So I’m being patient and walking slowly in one of the two lanes that are open aside from the self-checkouts. Once I reach the conveyer belt, I put my phone away and did some more waiting, patiently. I glanced at the woman behind me who looked very grumpy and I felt a little self-conscious as I wondered if she was thinking negatively about my use of the phone. Thinking that was silly, I told myself that instead of taking such a thing personally when she never indicated such a thing, I’d be more friendly, even if with a smile.
So I looked at her again, this time with a smile, and she smiled back with a smile on contempt. Something just didn’t feel right but I decided to just continue to be pleasant. The line started moving slightly as the woman in front of me began getting scanned through but then the cashier realized she had WIC checks so she had to unscan it and then put the checks in one at a time. I glanced up at the candy rack, having compassion for the woman in front of me because I know all too well how it feels having a line behind me when using those WIC checks. While looking around, I noticed the lady behind me looking at me, so I made eye contact with her. With the same smile, with a soft voice as if to attempt sincerity, she stated, “Some of us have to pay for our food. I don’t have that much stuff.”
Shocked, I didn’t know what to say. I reasoned within myself that surely she didn’t mean it as it sounded. She didn’t just insult the woman in front of us whom she knows nothing about did she? I felt uncomfortable but didn’t really know what to say so I attempted a smile but I know I must have been wearing my discomfort on my face (I felt read and I had hard time genuinely smiling because of how she made ME feel and I wasn’t even the one with the checks).
“They have to punch in all those buttons…” Maybe that’s all she meant… just the amount of time it takes to pay for it…
The conveyor belt moves and so I go to add the baby items I got. She moved a little closer to make conversation with me and asked if I had twins. I felt on guard, but kindly replied no and that I got things for my baby and for a friend’s baby. She noted the box of wipes and said that was a great idea and that they needed something like that for the church nursery. My stomach turned, but I shared the information and chatted a little with her about how nice it is to get the big box of wipes instead of a few at a time. Her body shifted and she started talking about how much of a better deal it must be than buying them less at a time. I stated kind of, but we use them so much that it doesn’t really matter much.
She shifted the conversation to the price of milk and how much cheaper it is now than it used to be. I said in disagreement that I thought it was actually rather expensive in my opinion (but then again I haven’t bought milk in a while) and she looked at me confused and said, “This kind? But this kind is $1.50…” and motions to show me her milk. I realized it was cheaper and so I said oh and then all my discomfort made sense as she addresses the milk of the woman in front of us, “that’s the kind she has, isn’t it?” She’s shaming her… all of this was to shame the woman in front of us…
She went on about the price of eggs and how much cheaper they are and inside I asked God if I could punch her. I asked him, “Please, just let me punch her… at the very least give me an opportunity to tell her kindly that she was being so rude!” The Lord didn’t let me hit her, or tell her that she was rude… but I positioned myself differently, realizing that I needed to now protect this woman from my anger that was burning up inside of me.
The woman in front of us pulled out three more checks to cover the other items on the conveyor belt (mind you, it’s only been about 5mins or so). The woman behind me emphatically sighed and rolled her eyes. “Please Lord, tell me how to respond to this woman, this is so wrong!” I yelled at Him as she proceeded to wave the people behind her to another line. I was in shock and couldn’t look at her as she stated that she’d have gone to the other aisle if they hadn’t.
I moved a little further away from her as she moved closer… she had her hand resting on my box of wipes as she tapped in impatience… this woman who clearly stated that she was associated with a church nursery… I asked God for an opportunity to help ease the humiliation of the woman in front of me. How many times I’d go at night to avoid the lines and the judgment, how many times I cried in the van after I left because I was scoffed at by onlookers, how many times I felt ashamed for needing help even knowing I didn’t take advantage…
I notice the woman in front of me got an extra gallon of milk than what was on her check and I see an opportunity to relate to this woman, to tell her she’s not alone. “Keeping track of what and how much for those checks are a pain in the butt sometimes isn’t it?” “Yea, I accidentally got an extra gallon.” “That happened to me so often when I was on WIC, but it was such a huge help.” “Yes, yes it is.” We shared, as she barely made eye contact. My heart hurt for her and I wanted so badly to tell her to ignore the rude people, she’s doing just fine….
The woman behind me, clearly noting the moment shared with the woman in front of me leaned in and said, “I’m sorry if it seemed I was hateful.” I cringed at her lack of apology… seemed is not what that was… she was so mean and hurtful… “You’re right. I’m really not a mean person. I’m a nice person. I just don’t understand how someone can get them.”
“Well, maybe before saying anything you could try to understand. It’s hard enough cashing out with those checks without the assumptions.”
At this point, the lady in front of us finished and quickly exited.
“Yes, you’re right and I’m sorry if that upset you.”
Still no actual apology….
“I appreciate that, but you didn’t upset me. I don’t know her. You don’t know her. You don’t know her story and why she needs help right now. You ought to assume the best.”
“You know, you’re right. I’m just thankful I haven’t needed it. I’m 80years old and I have worked hard all my life –” I can hear the arrogance seething from her voice as she continues to talk about how wonderful her life is and how she’s earned what she’s worked for… which I can respect and appreciate… I’ve witnessed my fair share of taking advantage of the system, but I also know there are lots of others who’ve needed the help and how hard it is to ask for it and walk through the line with others who assume the worst about you – forget doing it with all your kids in tow.
“Ma’am, you have no idea how hard it is to ask for help, especially with the stigma attached to food stamps and WIC. You can’t win. You ask for help when you need it and people treat you like you’re asking for a handout. Then if you don’t ask for help, you get judged for not telling anyone you needed help.”
“You’re right.” She said, as she was at a loss for words…
I was shaking so bad at this point that I accidentally requested money back. Trying to keep my composure, I continued with my purchase and thanked the cashier. She handed me my receipt and cash and looked me straight in the eye and said, “You have a great night, ma’am.” I felt her thoughts as she thanked me for speaking to the woman about this. All of this happened in the 20mins that it took to get through the line (including my own purchase along with the woman from in front of me). Twenty minutes.
I really hope that woman felt convicted for what she did to that woman in front of me because of the kind approach the Lord led me to handle it in. I hope she walked away wishing she had handled it differently and determined to use her next 20 minute interaction with strangers to be a blessing rather than looking down on others. She may have worked hard all her life and never needed food stamps, but in those 20 minutes, none of her hard work mattered. Her character did. Character is as valuable as how much you invest in your life. It says a lot about who you are as a person when you don’t express compassion and kindness – and we should think twice about what strangers perceive with how we are handling a situation.
We can be so quick to judge someone… Admittedly, I was quick to judge this older woman (remember how I wanted to punch her haha). But God’s way is higher than our way. He’s gracious even to the spiteful. He’s gracious even to me.
Where I would have wished I said something later, I walked away shaking to death because I stood up for a stranger. My anxiety made it near impossible to walk away like a normal human but I did it. I walked away and I didn’t look back. I didn’t apologize for saying the truth kindly. I said the truth firmly and kindly, not appeasing to what she wanted me to think.
I say that’s another victory.