I had a moment in a Walmart store two days ago. Having forgotten to pick up laundry detergent, the main thing I came for, and finding aisles for drinking water completely bare. On advice, I headed over the next morning at the store’s opening hour. I didn’t realize items stocked in the morning became cleared shelves on a daily basis until I witnessed water and disinfectant products urgently disappear. Walking up the detergent aisle, the shelves were largely empty and in unsettling disarray. Two or three of the last jugs of off-brand chlorine bleach were strewn in a way that removed them from their respective price markers. At just 7:25 a.m., it was actually eerie to see.
She looked at me asking “how much are those?” An elderly woman seeming in her eighties pointed to the last two bottles of bleach as the third whisked away in front of us. “$3.99” I told her. There was a change purse in her hand with a few ones protruding out the top. Snapping it shut and pausing for a moment, she just sort of stood there gazing toward the floor.
I waited to see if she needed anything else. “Well, I’m not paying that for bleach!!” as she raised her head. “Thank you“ she said evasively, turning away and then stopping. Turning back around to me, I recognized a look of sincere disappointment on her face crowded by words of self-reassurance. The kind we’ve all heard one time or another when something important to us wasn’t panning out. “They said this whole thing was overblown anyway, didn’t they.” That’s all she said, then turned again pushing her cart off down the aisle. It struck me because it was obvious by her peering into her change purse that she couldn’t afford the bleach. It stuck with me because it was even more obvious she was uncertain and clearly becoming afraid.
Leaving the pasta aisle, it was a deciding moment when I saw her again standing at shelves the rummaged-through disinfectants once occupied. The rest of this story is the obvious stuff. Like most of you, I don’t make a habit of posting good deeds or mitzvahs. They are private and just something you do. In this case there’s a pattern however, one I think is worth talking about.
I grabbed disinfectant cleaner and paper towels off the shelf and hand sanitizer and a small bottle of chlorine bleach I already had in my cart. She was just finishing up at checkout, so I abandoned my cart and rung the four items through the self-checkout line. It’s a good thing too, because old ladies get rock star parking with handicapped placards and she was just getting in her car when I got to her.
I handed her the bag and told her the whole thing has not been overblown. That people like us, older or with compromised immune systems or predispositions to respiratory problems really need to pay special attention. We talked about hand washing and face touching and commonly exposed traffic areas like mailboxes, doorknobs, laundry room counters, delivered-item packaging and the like, that are now special risk for some of us. She asked questions and offered comments making it clear she only recently became aware this could be serious for her. I don’t think I remember in recent history doing something more appreciated by someone than this conversation we shared. But that isn’t why I am writing this today. I had another similar moment stopping at Dollar General on my way back home from Phoenix last night. An elderly customer having been told they were out of disinfectants of any kind, asking a stocker if it was necessary to sanitize hands. I was glad to see the stock clerk lean into the question with some answers longer than just a few words.
What this has me recognize are several important things. The first of course, when noticing a senior or anyone for that matter struggling to pay for small items – it’s a great place and a great time to be aware of opportunities to help – whether food or household items when we can. The cupboards might be a little barer, with visitors and helpful observers a bit more scarce than usual. Secondly but not secondarily, it’s very much worthwhile to show up if you hear questions from seniors about this pandemic. It occurred to me leaving the second store with a second occurrence that there had been an even earlier conversation in the post office – an elderly man misinformed about the severity and the seriousness of this virus that brought on group conversation by those waiting in line. I live in a largely upper-senior neighborhood so this three-time occurrence inside a week may be more prevalent or opportune in my world. Still, what also appears largely in play is the right-wing media misinformation unchecked. Fox News median viewership is age 65. There is a lot of misinformation out there currently misdirecting a lot of vulnerable seniors.
Even though the president is now beginning his save-face efforts in an epidemiological turnabout – and Fox cancelling Trish Regan for ridiculous rants of conspiracy – Sean Hannity, Jeanine Pirro, Jesse Watters, Fox and Friends and Ed Henry responding to Fox’ top brass memos concerned with toning down the tone deafness probably for liability concerns- and of course the Juniors Trump & Falwell along with the ever right turning Dr. Drew pulling up the Trumpian rear by playing down reality.
Having a conversation with a senior who asks what may seem a minor question, might be all the difference in the world – in their world – a fact-free world fostered by the flagrantly fakest of news.