Stranger, can you spare a pound?

I had a very interesting, and quite lame, experience the other day, which I am determined to learn from.

OK, here’s what happened. I’ve just finished loading the groceries I bought into the back of my car and am walking the shopping cart (AKA “trolley”) back. Here in England, you have to put a pound coin in a slot in the cart, in order to get it unchained from the rest of the carts. You then get that pound coin back when you return the cart and chain it back to the other ones.

So I’m walking the cart back and thinking, “If someone needs this cart, I should just give it to them.” That is my sole thought as I walk the thing back. Maybe the person wouldn’t have the pound coin. (After all, I usually forget to bring one.) So right as I am going to return the cart, a woman walks up to me and says, “Is that a pound in there or a token?” Immediately, the thought I was having has left my head, as this stranger has approached me and asked me a question I only partially understand—I didn’t know you can put tokens in there. What are these tokens? How do you get them?

It turns out she doesn’t have the pound coin and offers to give me a pound in spare change. Without thinking, I say, “Sure, OK.” She gives me the coins and I give her the cart and walk back to my car.

As I am driving home I am talking to Jesus about it and am thinking, “Hey, wasn’t I thinking about someone needing my cart right before she approached me? Wouldn’t it have been a nice little lift for her day if a stranger had just given her the cart?” So I felt I blew it. In my defense, I was not feeling well. I was on the tail end of some nasty bug and had a foggy, hurting head. But I still felt really dumb and ashamed. I asked Jesus how I should feel and the sense I got back was that I should feel only the desire to learn (as opposed to guilt).

So based on that, I asked him to send me some sort of repeat of that experience, so that this time I could get it right.

Fast forward six hours later. I have had the kids at this play area at the local recreation center and am just leaving with them. We are walking past a big collection of vending machines and a girl about twelve years of age approaches me. A few minutes before I had helped her locate a staff person to whom she could give a lost wallet she had found. Now she walks up to me and says, “Excuse me, have you seen a powonfafo“—I couldn’t make out the last part of what she was saying. Neither could Miranda, who hears British accents better than I do. After about four repeats, I finally got it: “Have you seen a pound on the floor?”

I thought and thought and said, “No, I’m sorry, I haven’t.” I said, “I’d give you a pound but I don’t have one.” Feeling very unhelpful I just told her I wished I could  help her but I couldn’t. And then I left.

As we walked down the stairs, I could see that she found another woman to help her. This other woman had figured out the obvious thing: The girl had lost her pound near the vending machines. As we left, I could see the woman on her hands and knees, face to the floor, trying to see if the pound was under one of the vending machines. I realized that’s what I should have done. All it would have meant was asking the girl a question or two (“Did you lose a pound? Where?”), instead of simply answering hers.

The next morning I’m having my quiet time and I finally, at last, put two and two together: Oh my God, that was the repeat I had asked for! How had I missed it? The two situations were really quite similar: a stranger approaches me who, in one form or another, needs a pound. After I very consciously asked for a repeat of the first situation, how could I have not noticed when an obvious repeat showed up?

So now I had failed twice. I talked about it with Nicola shortly after, who then chuckled about it all morning. She thought the first experience, with the shopping cart, was particularly funny. I have a number of thoughts coming out of this:

I want to be far more conscious of the encounters I have. I have long noticed that when I encounter someone, anything I was thinking about beforehand (like my lesson), leaves my head.

What if every encounter is arranged like this (which is what I just presented in a recent class)? How many lessons am I missing? How many repeats am I not noticing?

It’s pretty cool that I can ask Jesus for something to repeat and it does. (I just hope he will do it again, so I can finally get it right.)

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ADDENDUM: I found out something right after I wrote this that I just had to  add.

The day after all this happened, Nicola and I went with the kids to a shopping center to shop for Nicola’s birthday stuff. I wanted to make sure I had a few pound coins on me, just in case it happened again. However, I figured it was probably good enough that Nicola had some pounds on her (which she did), since we would be together.

Once we arrived, I spent some time resting in the car, as I was still getting over the bug I mentioned above. Nicola had the kids and they were going to meet me in front of a certain store (sorry, “shop”). She got there first and was waiting there next to a vending machine, and at one point a woman came up to use the vending machine. She went to put her pound coin in, but it fell out, down the woman’s sleeve, and then onto the ground, and rolled under the vending machine.

At which point, Nicola bent down and retrieved it for her from under the vending machine. This, of course, was the very thing I wished I had done for that girl the previous day!

So we decided that Jesus must have given up on me and decided to give Nicola the assignment instead. And in fact, with that episode, and the stranger actually, finally getting her pound, the whole thing stopped repeating.