A few weekends ago I offered to do the grocery shopping and took the kids with me. Note, this is the first uncharacteristic move I made that day.

The shopping trip was similar to most we have been on complete with arguments over what snacks and drinks to buy, who will sit in the cart, and, of course, if each could have a balloon upon checkout. Indeed, this trip was like many others until we were making our way to the checkout counter. In front of us there was an elderly man, probably in his 80s, shouting at a store employee. I am not sure what the old man’s name is but for the sake of argument let’s call him Peter. Another person asked me if I would intervene and I did something uncharacteristic of what I would normally do in such a situation; I intervened.

I told my kids not to move and went right to the man who was pushing the clerk. I tapped him on the shoulder, looked into his eyes, and asked him what was wrong. In broken English he tried to explain to me that the clerk accused his wife of shoplifting and he was trying to defend her honor.  Again, I am not sure what his wife’s name is so, for the sake of argument, lets call her Maria. This action on my part took just enough time to calm everyone down and for the store manager to arrive at “the scene.”

I walked away with the kids and went to self-checkout only to have the store manager track me down and hand each of my kids balloons as a thank you to me for helping diffuse a tense situation.  The manger explained to me that Peter’s wife is senile and had a history of unintentional shoplifting. 

As I reflect on the gift of this encounter I wish I could have spent more time with Peter.  I would like to know how long he has been married, what Maria was like when she was younger, and the challenges he faces as a man living with a woman who likely forgets who he is. But I suppose one does not think of such questions while shopping with triplets.

Is there a lesson here?  In my mind, its that we must always show compassion to those in need.  The trick for us is to actually take the time to “see” those in need and not be blind to the needs of others; even when they take the form of a crazy old man at Stop and Shop.