I saw a homeless man in Walmart today. He was an elderly Asian man with a huge ratty coat, 5Xs too large old nike trainers, and a large bundle of blankets I’d seen on top of his head minutes earlier walking beside the road. He was in the cookie aisle, deliberating between Chips Ahoy and Nutter Butters. I would have gone with the Nutter Butters, I think, assuming the pseudo-peanut butter in them have more protein that the Chips Ahoy. It made me intensely uncomfortable. I felt so sad and angry that he was in such a state. I’d like to say I wasn’t pitying him, but I was. I kept trying to concentrate on which crackers I wanted to get, but I couldn’t tear my eyes or concentration away from him. I felt nauseous  and disgusted with my own full basket of ground turkey, oranges, pesto, spaghetti and Jewish rye. I guess it bothers me, that in a country so immensely blessed and fortunate to have so many opportunities, helping hands, generous people, and just general wealth that there still are so many homeless people– either due to unfortunate circumstances, bad turns, persisting problems and illnesses, or lack of familial/community support.

In South Africa, homeless people are a regular feature in the supermarkets, especially the Pick n’Pay in Hatfield. They would wander the aisle, begging for a few rand or a loaf of bread. I got used to it, I am ashamed to say. It didn’t bother me all that much in the immediate and heart wrenching sense that I felt tonight. I don’t know if it was simple desensitization, or that the immediate feelings of frustration and despair one feels when encountering those so far worse off than oneself had morphed itself into an ongoing and general anxiety and frustration with the huge gap in SA between those who have and those who do not.

Sometimes, I would buy them loaves of bread, peanut butter, a few apples etc. Often, I wouldn’t. I stood in the cracker aisle of Walmart swamped with feelings and thoughts–I was paralyzed in way that hasn’t occurred in a long time.

I reached for the Cracked Black Pepper Triscuits and walked out the aisle in the other direction. Am I a bad person? I don’t know.

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