Did I Do the Right Thing?

By Janey Womeldorf

Did I Do the Right Thing?

A man drove up to me in the Wal-Mart parking lot three weeks ago. He had two young boys in the back of his car and told me he had driven into town from the next state over to attend his grandmother’s funeral. He needed gas to get back home and asked me for money. I didn’t know whether to feel sympathy at his plight, anger at being taken advantage of because deep down I suspected he was lying, or pity that any father would be reduced to begging from a total stranger in front of his children. I gave him some. Three weeks later, it is still bothering me.

A year beforehand, outside a different grocery store in Florida, a woman approached me in a similar scenario. She told me that her car had broken down, and she needed money to help get it fixed so she could drive home to Georgia. I refused. The situation was similar, my response totally opposite, but the one thing that remained the same was that after I drove off, I couldn’t shake it. It bothered me for weeks afterwards. One year later, I still wonder if I should have given her some.

I consider myself a good person and always try to do the right thing, but the next time someone approaches me in a parking lot, I still don’t know what that right thing is. If someone comes up to you and asks you for money, if you are able to, should you give it to them? Does their reason even matter? They must be desperate or they wouldn’t beg; nobody begs unless they have to. I have offered before to make a phone call for people but, when all they want is cash, it pricks my conscience to just keep walking.

Three weeks later, I can’t believe this is still on my mind. I am not like some people – if something is bothering me, I have a hard time shaking it off and moving on. The issue or incident lurks in the recesses of my mind, waiting to pop up whenever my brain is not pre-occupied. When it does, it routinely casts a cloud of self-doubt that gnaws at my usually clear and sunny conscience. It is not just limited to strangers in parking lots. Over the years, there have also been times when I’ve made a comment or said something to someone that I’ve later regretted. Days after, I’m still questioning myself and, invariably, I have to go back to that person and apologize – only then can I restore the status quo of my conscience. Strangers in parking lots don’t give you that luxury.

I consider myself to be one of life’s optimists so any negativity, regardless of how trivial it appears to others, weighs heavy on my mind. The irony is, the older I get, the greater the sense of self-confidence and inner peace I feel. Age has blessed me with clarity, and clarity has rewarded me with something that I never thought I would gain – growing acceptance of my flaws, my quirks, regrets and mistakes, and surprisingly, even my body. Nowadays, I’m just excited that it works even if it does hang looser and lower than it used to. My once youthful body has been replaced by the mind of a wiser woman, and if wrinkles are the price you pay for wisdom, I’m okay with that. Age has also re-affirmed my values, priorities, loves and wants. Maybe this is what they mean when they talk about “loving” yourself.

I don’t think I really started loving myself until I hit my forties. Gone is the nervous twenty-year old too serious for her own good, and changed is the anal, 30-year old always secretly and overly-worried about what others thought. The new-and-improved me is closer to 50 than 40, with greater confidence, patience, tolerance and empathy. I solve the problems that I can and give myself permission to let go of the ones I can’t. I have more growing to do but I am content – which is why when something throws a rock into my peaceful pond and three weeks later ripples of self-doubt still linger, it bothers me.

I watched a show on television once about good Samaritans. The producers staged several situations of people (who were actors) in various scenarios of “need,” for example, crying on the roadside. They then secretly filmed the reaction of passing members of the general public. Most people walked on by with no offer to help. I understood their hesitancy to enter into an unknown situation, plus, in today’s world, who knows if you are opening yourself up to danger. Nevertheless, I hoped I’d be one of the people who stopped. I’d be lying if I said I definitely would be though. It depends on the circumstances. Sad but true.

I realize that the parking-lot-asking-for-money scenario is a “lose-lose” situation. Part of me loathes that I gave him money because, in my mind, I feel taken advantage of. Also, should I feel foolish for taking out my purse when he probably could have grabbed the whole thing in a matter of seconds? I wish I didn’t think that. I also wish I didn’t suspect that he was supporting a habit that probably had more to do with drugs than his grandmother’s funeral. On the other hand, l like to think I’m the sort of person willing to help his fellow man, because, what if their plight was genuine? Whether I walk away or put my hand in my purse, my action, or inaction will dwell on my conscience for weeks, and I will never know if their motivation was pure. There is one thing I am certain of though: It will gnaw at me for weeks after.

I may love myself.

But I hate that.

About this writer

  • Janey Womeldorf Janey Womeldorf once went to work wearing different shoes. She now freelance writes and scribbles away in Orlando, Florida. It’s probably best.

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