Life can be a struggle. Life can also be a beautiful thing. I’m going to tell you a story about how a stranger helped turn my struggle into a beautiful thing. Now, the title of this post may sound a little odd. It’s strange to see a story about individually wrapped cheese playing a life changing role in someone’s life. However, it did in mine. I’ll never look at those little wrapped slices of cheesy goodness the same way. And it’s not a culinary discovery thing. It’s a life altering event kind of thing. Let me explain.
Not everyone in the world has lived their life the way they should. We all grow up with a mental picture of what we are supposed to do. We are supposed to graduate high school, graduate college, meet the love of our life, get married, buy a house and have babies. Well, sometimes this doesn’t happen for all of us. Sometimes we think that the choice we are making is the right one. Nobody ever gets married intending to get a divorce. Sometimes, even though you want to live happily ever after with the person you first marry, it doesn’t happen. We don’t want this to happen, but for reasons unknown to the rest of the world, it does. Maybe you try to make it work. Maybe you fight and fight and fight for it to work, but it doesn’t. This is ok. Even when the rest of the world judges you because you aren’t following the Bible the way you should, you are ok. From all the things I have read and heard, if you believe in God, He will still love you. Ignore every single person that judges you. If they post pictures on Facebook about how much better they are because they are not divorced, ignore them. Nobody knows the roads that you have traveled. Even if they are ignorant enough to think they do, they don’t. Only you know in your heart and you need to convince yourself that your mistakes are ok. Until you do that, you will always feel guilty because society paints a picture of what happily ever after is. Create your own.
Now, that being out of the way, I chose a path that was bumpy. It was bumpy with logs in the way, sticks, boulders, tasmanian devils, tornadoes, you name it, it was on that darn path. I learned a lot, I’ve grown a lot. I feel like I know more at 31 than some people that I know do at 65. I don’t boast about it, I just feel a lot more content with the little things in life. That rough part of my life was not only mentally rough, but financially rough as well. Making about $300 a week, I had to support a new baby, a 4 year old, pay $950 at the time for rent and still do the day to day things. I had way too much pride to apply for food stamps. Would I have qualified, absolutely. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I knew there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. Did I think that light was still 4 years away, nope not at all. I really hoped it would be a lot sooner, but it wasn’t and that’s ok.
The only thing that I asked for help with was milk, formula and cheese. There is a program out there called WIC and they give those that struggle checks to buy these things. Oh my Lord, it pained me to do this. I cringe even thinking about it now. Having to step into that office asking for help still makes me tear up. I used those checks 3 times. 3 times and that was it. I could have used them another 3-4 years, but I refused. I could manage even if I went without. As long as my children were fed and happy, I was happy. Sometimes my pride is my enemy, but it’s who I am and I would not change that characteristic ever.
After going to a well known department store, I used my checks the first time. The large blue envelope that carried the checks was humiliating for me. The cashier called me “a welfare person.” This wasn’t welfare, but I just teared up and took my baby formula and milk out of the store as fast as I could. I left there letting her think what she wanted because some people who have these mentalities really are ignorant. If they only knew that everything was taken from me and I was working as hard as I could, they would understand. However, some people don’t deserve to hear your story. I just pray they never find themselves to be in that same situation. It’s heartbreaking.
The next week or two when I had the courage (kind of) to go back and try again, I did. However, I dragged my mom and dad along with me for support and went to a different store. This was a little market in town next to a church I grew up going to. I did feel a little bit better in this one. I grabbed my baby formula, my milk, my cheese and some cereal. Hiding the gigantic blue envelope, I pulled it out cautiously, trying to make sure nobody could see me. I wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. It was after work, around 5pm and the foot traffic in the store was starting to pick up. The nice cashier didn’t call me a welfare person. However, there was a problem and of course, I had about 3 or 4 others in line behind me now.
“Mam, there’s no cheese on this check this week.” I looked at the check and it wasn’t on there. I had nothing. My $20 was just put in my gas tank and my bank account was just drained to go to $1,000 rent. “Oh.” I say quietly. My face was as red as a Maine lobster fresh out of the cooking pot. “I can’t get it this time. I’m sorry.” She gave me the most sympathetic look. My parents couldn’t hear what was going on and I would be dammed if I asked them for a nickel. They already had helped me so much, even $3 cheese was out of the question. I gave her the checks and didn’t dare look around. When people stare at you, it’s like you can feel them burning holes in the back of your head. Or this could have just been my paranoia.
I went out to the parking lot, speed walking to my parent’s van as fast as I could. I was so embarrassed. I just wanted to hug my mom. All of a sudden I hear, “Mam!” I just continued getting in the van. “Mam, mam!” I turned around. “Mam, I bought your cheese for you! I hope you have a good day!” The stranger handed me the cheese. I just looked at him. I thanked him over and over. That kind stranger purchased the cheese after I left the store and ran it out to me in the parking lot. After he walked away without saying another word, I just looked at my mom. I got into the van and I cried. But, for the first time in a really long time, it was a good cry. He didn’t judge me. He wasn’t looking at me like I had chosen the wrong path in life. He wasn’t there to give me a lecture, he just wanted to help me. I will be forever grateful.
I don’t even know if that kind stranger still remembers that. I know I do. I know I’ll never forget. Every time I pass that little market, I think of that time. Because of him, I try at least once a month to pay for the person behind me at the drive-thru. I try to do little things for people when I can. Other people may see it as a waste of money, but I see it as a genuine act of kindness. Why not? Save your money, yes. Be responsible, yes. But, splurge a little too. Having nothing is not fun. If you have even a little extra, enjoy it. You can’t take it to the grave with you. You can save for big fancy things, but don’t forget to live life too.
And maybe, if you see someone struggling at the store, buy them their cheese.😉
“Never look down on someone unless you are helping them up.” – Unknown