I have a bad habit. I can’t remember when it started or why, but whenever I see someone I know in public, I hide. It probably comes from this subtle fear I have of talking to people. When I notice an old friend walking around a store, I get that feeling like when you are about to scoop that first spoonful of peanut butter from an undisturbed jar. On one hand, I know that if they see me and I don’t talk to them they’ll think I’m a jerk, but I like just letting them go along their own way. The other thing is that when I’m alone I get focused. I’ll start talking to myself and everything. But I think the real reason I ignore people is that I don’t care about them. I know that sounds awful, but if you were honest you would probably say the same thing. There are times when I just don’t care about anyone at all, except for myself of course.
Every week I let myself have a beer. I go to the Trader Joe’s down the street from our house and pick up some exotic beer; a different one every week. Last week I got out of a night class and decided that I wanted to have my weekly beer, so I headed over to Trader Joe’s. When I walked in the store I was already lost in thought over some research I was planning on doing when I got home; something about Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.
The store has a whole aisle dedicated to alcohol, which doesn’t sound impressive but if you know how small the store was you’d realize how impressive that really is. They are known for having about the best wine selection in the whole valley. When I turned on to the aisle I saw a neighbor with his two daughters talking to an employee about some wine. They’re a Christian family, an incredibly close Christian family. They have like eleven kids and all but two of them are girls. The crazy thing about them is that they are really friendly to everyone. I guess as long as I’ve known them I’ve never seen one of the 13 members of that family ignore me, or anyone for that matter. There’re the type of people that always like to visit with people. When everyone else in this impersonal world is running around trying to keep conversations to meaningless signs, they always insist upon substance. The two girls with him were around six and twelve, I wish I knew their names, but I don’t. As I headed toward the beer I wanted to get, the older girl saw me and waved. It’s really great to see a girl say hi to you with a genuine smile and know that they aren’t flirting and they don’t expect you to be flirting either. Something that I forgot to mention about this family, there’re entirely home-schooled and they tend to only spend time with their own family or other Christian people. I guess that would make them sort of isolated, but to me they just seem kind and real. Part of that has to be that they don’t get to see a lot of the sick and plastic and selfish way people can act in the world, and maybe they don’t need to. At least, I don’t want them to.
I said hi to the girl, grabbed my beer, and headed toward the checkout. As I was walking away I kept glancing over to my neighbor to see if he would see me, but he was still talking to the employee and as such had neither seen me nor heard his daughter say hi to me. I felt kinda bad as walked past him. I knew that he would want me to stop and say hi, but I was full of thoughts and I did want to get home.
There was one person ahead of me in line, which made me kind of anxious. I had this fear that if my neighbor would see me then he would come over and talk to me and then his daughter would say something like, “oh, I saw him earlier,” and then he would know that I had ignored him; or maybe he would see my beer and realize that I must have been standing right next to him when I got it and I didn’t say anything. I’m sure all this sounds petty to you, but you don’t understand my neighbor and his family. People mean something to him, and you can’t just ignore that about a guy like him.
I felt better when it was my turn to checkout. By that time someone had gotten in line right after me and I could still see my neighbor talking in the distance. I tried to hurry everything along as I paid for the single beer. Luckily the checker was this guy who had carded me about ten times before so he always lets me buy my beer without showing ID. As I slid my debt card through the scanner to pay, I looked to my right to see my neighbor and his two girls inline to checkout. There was still one shopper between us, but I knew he had seen me and that I should at least say something to him. I looked his direction for a second or two to see if our eyes could meet, but at the time he was saying something to the littlest girl. I had to do something quick, the checker was handing me my receipt and I knew if I waited a second longer than necessary then the next guy inline would get angry. I either had to turn around and walk back to my neighbor and say hi, or I had to head for the door before he saw me see him. I left.
I felt crummy leaving without saying anything to him, but I just couldn’t get myself to turn around. Walking away I could feel them looking after me like they expected me to say something, it really bothered me. Right before I walked out, I looked at the reflection in the glass door. I could see the littlest daughter holding her father’s hand and looking at me as I kept walking. She looked puzzled for a second, and then she looked up at her father and asked him something. The door shut behind me before I could hear what she said, but I knew she must have been asking him why I didn’t say hi to them. And I felt like the worst sinner ever.
Sure, I’m no child molester, or serial killer, or dictator, or whatever, but I did something to that little girl that was inevitable and brutal. I showed her that there are people who claim to love God and who hate their neighbor. I broke with the sacred fellowship that her father and her offered me because I wanted to get home. If it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else, but for her six years of life I don’t think that little girl had ever seen a believer who was willing to sacrifice love for the sake of convenience. She now has one less sacred thing in the world, and I took it from her. How am I not a child molester?