He was a middle-aged, spanish-speaking man with cropped salt and pepper hair. His t-shirt overstretched at the neck, and his hands dirty and calloused from many a hard days worked. I was there, giddy to pick up the antique chest I had purchased the day before for $43.51.
As I rolled past the line of folks waiting to make their purchases, I was stopped by the awkward interaction between him and the cashier.
"This is pathetic!" She said.
"You can't steal from here, sir. I should ban you from ever coming in this store again. We are all falling on hard times. This is embarrassing, and I'm going to embarrass you in front of all these people! You cannot steal from this store. MANAGER!"
Apparently, the man had stuffed an old suitcase full of sneakers, thinking the cashier would ring it up without looking inside.
She looked inside.
And one by one, she pulled out multiple pairs of shoes.
My heart sank. I am easily embarrassed for people, and will quickly turn a TV channel at first indication of someone being humiliated or making a fool of themselves.
But here in Goodwill, my favorite store in America, I was frozen. Concern, fear, nosiness, horror. All of it stopped me and my old/new treasure chest in our tracks. It was like watching a wreck in slow motion. His face was one of weariness, shame, confusion and fear.
As the cashier continued her speech, the manager appeared from the back to join the spectacle. I got distracted by something, and the next thing I knew the man was walking out of the store, without the suitcase and without the shoes. I stood in place for about 30 seconds, then ran to the parking lot to find him. He was gone.
I went back in to get my old/new chest, but really to re-join the congregation that had just witnessed such a sad, tragic display. We would be strangers, thinking in silence. Wrestling with the perplexities presented in those few, short moments. In Goodwill.
I was angry with the cashier. But I was sorry to be angry because she was right. Stealing is wrong. Many people fall on hard times. And stealing is still wrong, i thought.
I was angry because of the shame on his face. It seemed that he may not have known every word directed towards him in those moments, but without a doubt, he understood their meaning. I wanted so badly to change the channel.
I was mad at myself. And at the other people in the store. Here I was rolling my $43.51 old/new chest out to my mini SUV, and a man is attempting to smuggle $7.99 shoes out of Goodwill in a suitcase. I had cringed. Frozen.
And did not act.
I reasoned that the man was breaking the law. That the cashier was doing her job. That it wasn't my place to step in.
And my good senses caught up with me too late. The senses that tell the truth and acknowledge the obvious- that if a man has to attempt to smuggle used, $7.99 shoes out of a Goodwill, there is a bigger principle at stake.
I should have intervened. Paid for the shoes. And the suitcase. I shouldn't have wasted those 30 seconds rationalizing my own fear. I should've approached the counter (i've never been known to mind my own business in a crisis, anyway) or, at the very least, stopped him in the parking lot, offering whatever Spanish words the Holy Spirit would pull up from my 7th grade brain files. Told him that God loved him. That I was so sorry for everything. Given him the shoes.
Oprah often asks her guests what they know for sure. And if ever I had the chance, here's what i'd say:
I know for sure that God is less interested in our WHAT and more interested in our WHY.
He is the God of The Story, dear Oprah. The Paragraph. The Chapter. OurBook.
I'm sure that God wouldn't have stopped him at the register to chastise him about those shoes.
I'm sure God would have said, 'sir, how many people do you have in your family? What size does your wife wear? Let me get the manager and see if there are ways that we can help you. You must be in a tough spot."
I know that God studies what's beneath. The things deeper in the treasure chest or in the suit case. God sees what men/women/cashiers cannot see.
I know for sure that God doesn't care about material things like shoes, suitcases, or stretched t-shirts. He does cares about weary, shamed faces, dirty, calloused hands and needs rushing out the door the same way they came in.
I know that God is the God of Goodwill.
Benevolent. Compassionate. Good. Kind. Considerate. Charitable.
All the good we aspire to as human beings. That is God.
The congregation missed it that day. We missed the opportunity to let our lights shine. To restore dignity to an already hurting person. To dare ourselves beyond his WHAT to imagine his WHY. We failed to buy the shoes.
I hope not to miss my next opportunity to practice courage. To ooze a loving Jesus all over a desperate life. I hope to ask the cashier to please lower her voice. Tell her that shaming a man over used, $7.99 shoes really isn't the route we should take. Go to the manager myself, and ask, "what can we do to help this man, Mr. Manager of My Local Goodwill?" Walk down the aisles, taking up a collection from all my fellow congregants to pay for the shoes and some other stuff. To transform into one of those special people who makes a scene to spread a little positivity. That is how we change the world. One musky store at a time. One human life at a time, with a few pair of used, $7.99 shoes.