I live by a motto that says regret is a tool used by the weak to reduce guilt for things they shouldn’t feel guilty about. After all, if I say something or do something that is determined to be hurtful by someone else, that is THEIR choice to feel hurt. That’s not my fault. Right?
As I sit here hiding behind a keyboard, soaked in a thick fog of regret, I realize it may be time to start considering a paradigm shift.
Earlier tonight I stopped by a local grocery store to grab a couple of bottles of our favorite white wine. While not a necessity by any means, a couple of bottles of a Clos du Bois Chardonnay can provide a helpful lift to the middle-aged parents of a five year old.
With my two bottles firmly in my grasp, I chose the shorter of the two lines (for those of you NOT from small town Alabama, a grocery store with only two check out lines is more the rule than the exception around here.) In front of me was a man who reminded me an awful lot of my father 20 years ago – uniform shirt indicating a hard day of work in a hot and dirty place, calloused hands proving he works hard for his money, and well-worn steel-toed boots that seemed to be begging for a day off.
The items he intended to buy said as much about him as his outfit – a five-pound sack of potatoes, a box of mac and cheese and a 20-ounce Dr. Pepper. This was a hard-working man on his way home from work, who had been asked to run an errand for the wife. Probably had hungry kids at home and likely only gets to afford a good, cold beer on the weekend after a payday. I was raised by a man like that. I can spot one from a quarter mile.
I watched in absolute pain as he tried to pay for his meager supplies with his credit-union debit card four times, only to be told it was declined. I winced and tried to hide my face and ignore my frivolous purchase of wine as the cashier talked him into trying the purchase without the mac and cheese. No deal. Still declined.
“Well, thanks anyway, I will just try again later,” he said, with his head down. With his calloused hands he put his useless debit card back into his well-worn wallet and headed for the door.
Throughout the entire episode, I had my card in hand. I WANTED to offer to pay for his items. I swear I did. But even though I didn’t know him, I felt as though I had known him since I was a boy. I KNEW he wouldn’t allow it. My dad wouldn’t have allowed a stranger buy HIS groceries, although he would have helped any stranger in such a predicament. I did not have the courage to damage his pride while I was standing there watching him be stripped of his dignity.
My solution to the entire quandary was to have the checker add his items to mine, and then I would follow him to his car and offer them to him – affording him the opportunity to accept or decline the charity in private. It might have worked, had the checker not been slower than a slug in a salt bath. Just as I was about to tell her to add his items, I saw his car pulling out of its space near the front door of the store.
I watched his direction of travel, hurried out of the store, and looked in every store parking lot all the way home hoping to see his car. I don’t know what I would have done if I had seen it, but I looked for it.
Maybe it was a glitch with his card. Maybe he was just a poor guy who was short on funds. But I had the means to assist him with his plight and I balked. I let the fear of embarrassment and discomfort prevent me from helping someone who was simply trying to take some taters and noodles home to his family.
I suppose regret IS a normal human emotion. I don’t like it though. But the price I am paying for it is only an emotion.
Somewhere right now, a family is not having potatoes.