Published on November 2, 2021

The View from my Seat

Someone paid for my groceries, then this happened

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

The young woman and her son entered the market just ahead of me in my wheelchair.

We then passed each other several times going up and down the aisles.

She ended up in front of me at checkout. We never spoke.

After paying for her groceries, the woman and her son lingered before leaving.

As I pulled out my debit card to pay, the cashier muttered something.

I wasn’t wearing my hearing aids, so I had trouble understanding. I thought she was telling me the bagger would help carry my groceries.

It took me a few moments to realize what she was really saying: The woman ahead of me had paid for my groceries.

By the time I figured that out, however, my benefactor was gone. I hadn’t thanked her.

I also hadn’t had a chance to tell her that while I appreciated her gesture, it really wasn’t necessary.

I assumed that the woman’s gesture was motivated because she felt sorry for this disabled person.

This has happened to me several times and, strange as it seems, each time I have conflicting emotions. On one hand, I am appreciative. But I also feel guilty. There are people - disabled and not - far worse off than I am.

And in all honesty, I also find it a bit irritating. I don’t want to be pitied.

In the 12 years I have been in a wheelchair because of a rare spinal cord disorder, I admit to feeling sorry for myself several times a day. I can do that, but don’t you dare.

Maybe she made the gesture because she saw me struggling to roll up and down the aisles. On this day, a device that I can use to power my manual chair was in for repairs. I was rolling the chair the old-fashioned way, by hand.

Or maybe she figured that because I am disabled, I am impoverished. That would be logical. Almost 25 percent of disabled people live in poverty, a rate twice that of non-disabled folks.

I am fortunate. I can pay for my groceries despite today’s spiraling prices.

Or maybe she was being patriotic because she thought I was a veteran injured by an IED in Afghanistan or in a firefight in Iraq. But I would just be flattering myself to think someone would think that. At age 74, I am closer to being a World War II veteran than any recent war.

As I left the market, I noticed the woman loading her groceries into the back of her SUV.

I rolled up to her and thanked her for the gesture. Stupidly, I didn’t let it rest there. I let her know that it really wasn’t necessary.

“Oh well,” she replied. “The holidays are coming up. Have a Merry Christmas.”

With those words, I scolded myself. What an idiot I am. I had over-analyzed a simple act of kindness.

So what if she had acted out of pity?

This was just the gesture of a very nice lady who spreads the Christmas spirit all year long.

And maybe this mother was teaching her son about compassion and generosity. Or perhaps she was paying forward someone’s act of kindness toward her.

If so, it’s now my turn.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)