I stopped by the local Subway restaurant yesterday to grab a sandwich for lunch. I go through phases where I’ll eat the same lunch every day for weeks on end. In the colder months that lunch often consists of a bowl of soup. Then there is a favorite of mine that I never tire of, peanut butter and jelly. Yesterday, however, I was craving something different.
As I walked down the sidewalk toward the front door of the shop, I noticed a woman with two small children curled up to her. When I approached she turned to me. From the look in her eyes, I was certain she was going to ask for money and I immediately felt bad because I rarely carry cash these days. But she didn’t ask for money. In a pleading tone, she said, “Could you get a small sandwich for my kids? They really need to eat something.”
I could see the hunger in their eyes, and without hesitation, I said, “Of course. What would you like me to get them?”
“They’ll eat anything,” she said.
I went into the Subway. There was a line, and as I waited, I kept turning toward the windows. The two kids–I’d guess 3 years old and 2 years old–had their faces pressed against the glass watching me. I smiled at them and they smiled back.
The woman had asked for a small sandwich. When it was my turn, I ordered my usual, and then ordered a footlong turkey and cheese sandwich. I had them cut the turkey sandwhich in two and wrap the halves separately. I picked up 2 chocolate milks and asked for two chocolate chip cookies. When I came out of the store, I handed the bag to the mother. The kids seemed suddenly happy and excited. The woman told the kids to say thank you, but I waved them off, telling them to enjoy the food and to take care. I headed back to my car.
On the short drive home, I felt rattled. Maybe I’d done something nice for someone, but I didn’t feel good about the situation. I was happy to pay for the food, but upset by the fact that these kids were clearly hungry. The lunch I got them was a temporary bandaid. I know that far too many people go hungry every day, but the pleading I saw in the mother’s eyes got to me. She didn’t ask for anything for herself, just her kids. It occurred to me that I should have asked her if she needed something to eat, too.
For the rest of the day I was bothered by this encounter. I felt a terrible sense of guilt. Our kids don’t worry about where their next meal is coming from. That very morning, I’d just paid the balance of our upcoming trip to Ireland this summer and didn’t think much of it.
And those two kids on the sidewalk were hungry and grateful for a small sandwich, milk, and a cookie.
Written on May 12, 2022.
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You did a nice thing, Jamie, and went above and beyond in doing it. It’s a tragic situation where a small kindness might seem futile – but it’s still more than many others would have done.
The remark “they’ll anything” really got me. Homelessness is a scourge that is truly painful. I experienced the same thing when I lived in Australia. A young woman was sleeping in front of a 7-11 with a sign “pregnant and no home” and it was painful to see that. I wrote about it in my blog because I didn’t want to forget about it: https://www.elizabethtai.com/blog/2015/06/03/homeless-in-melbourne
I still think about that lady sometimes, wondering how her child looked like, wondering if she’s now having a better life.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot and shared some thoughts on Facebook here: