Indecision and fallen fruit
He was middle-aged, Hispanic, with tired eyes and hair speckled with gray.
Ellie and I were returning from a ski trip in the San Juan Mountains and had stopped at a local market to resupply. Ellie shopped while I waited in our camper listening to the radio.
The man left the store with a couple of small bags of groceries and walked over to an ancient bicycle. Out of his pockets he took two empty sacks and double-bagged his purchases. His bike had no basket or rack so he tied the two plastic bags to his handlebars. The entire process was performed with a deliberate and methodical purpose. He gently threw one leg over the top tube and rolled away.
He and I were a lesson in contrast. He pedaled a prehistoric two-wheeler while I sat in an RV with heat, a refrigerator and running water and packed with enough ski gear to outfit the Kardashians. But in truth, all that separated me from that man was that one of us was born middle class, genetically blessed in a country of opportunity. Yes, I suppose I can take pride in some ingenuity in my younger years that has paid dividends of some comfort and free time. But our respective circumstances were more random than deserved.
After only about 10 feet, I could see the bag beginning to break.
I think it’s safe to say most of us have the means to give — if not money, time — and most of us have the inclination.
He did have some time to stop and grab the bottom of one sack before the entire contents hit the pavement. The bread was only slightly crushed. The hand soap skidded into a small snowdrift. Scattered among the cans and cardboard were jars of peanut butter and jelly. The PB made it, the jelly did not. It looked to be strawberry; it spilled out over the concrete like an open wound.
He got on his hands and knees and tried to salvage some jam. Shoppers leaving the store took pains to not make eye contact. Though most ignored the spectacle, some actually appeared angry. When I looked away from the other shoppers and back to him I thought I saw tears.
I’m not the hero of this story. I sat in my camper as NPR fanned my liberal leanings while right in front of me was an opportunity to walk the walk of kindness.
‘THE ROAD TO HELL’
I truly wanted to help but I was paralyzed by indecision and self-consciousness. What would I say to him? Could I make him understand that the price of jam meant nothing to me? Would he be insulted? Did he speak English?
My mother used to say, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Why is it easier to act impulsively with anger than kindness?
He divided goods into the remaining unbroken bags and bent over to wipe his hands on some snow. Finally, I grabbed some cash and got out of my vehicle.
I was halfway there when a gray-haired lady with a limp and an apron bearing the store’s name hurried over and handed him a fresh sack with a new jar of jelly.
He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and smiled with the teeth he had left. She returned his grin and patted him on the shoulder, turned and walked back toward the store.
I wasn’t close enough to have heard what was said or in what language, but I do know humanity is multilingual.
He passed close by me as he biked away. Though his skin looked moist from tears, his face beamed. He returned my smile.
I think it’s safe to say most of us have the means to give — if not money, time — and most of us have the inclination. What is often forgotten is that you need not have a lot of time or money, because many people doing a little can accomplish a lot.
There are countless ways we can help — be it the needy, the environment or organizations that support causes in which we believe.
That tired man in Montrose reminded me that even today you can feel like a hero for the price of some crushed fruit.
Hopefully next time I’ll do more than just write about it.
Jeffrey Bergeron, aka Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.