To whom it may concern at Walmart,
The following story is completely true, and I want you to please take my role completely out of it as you read it. I was simply there, as part of what was going on. This has nothing to do with me, and everything to do with humanity (at so many levels). I simply don’t know how to tell this story without sharing my role in it.
My girlfriend and I, on our last legs trying to find something we needed to finish a project, made our way into a Walmart in Taylorsville, Utah. This was last Friday. Black Friday as some people call it. Being in that store was very close to the last place we wanted to be that night, but… when the need calls for it, and all that stuff…
We found what we needed, and entered the long lines at checkout. When we got into our line, we hadn’t yet noticed that it was moving much slower than the other lines, but we soon would. Eventually, my girlfriend gasped in astonishment. I looked over at her and she just stood shaking her head, looking past me. “No one that old should ever have to work, let along on a day like this in a place like this.”
My attention immediately went to the cashier who I had yet to notice through the mayhem and bustle of people who divided us. There stood a lady who couldn’t have been younger than 80, though she looked closer to 90. The stock photo I’ve used in this post is as close to what she looked like as I could find. She was tiny and frail. Her cheek bones were sunken in. Her hands trembled as she struggled with the bigger items. She was moving at a snail’s pace, and the days exhaustion was obviously very heavy upon her.
My heart instantly broke, for many reasons. Now, don’t get me wrong. I applaud Walmart for hiring diversely and offering employment to older people who otherwise struggle to find work. The fact that she was working at all in order to survive was a sign to me of a problem in our country and with our humanity, far less than it was with your company. No, my problem with your company came minutes later when we finally reached the woman.
She began scanning our items. We only had a handful of things to purchase, certainly nothing worthy of a 40 minute wait at a checkout line, but we knew what day it was when we came for those things, too. I stopped the old woman from scanning our purchase and asked her if she could accept a gift. I wanted her to have some extra spending money. Some extra security. Some extra love. I don’t know. I just didn’t feel right having a wallet full of cash while this woman was most likely suffering to survive.
She looked at me as if to ask what I meant. I reached into my wallet and pulled out the two one-hundred dollar bills I had inside. “I want you to please have this gift from me,” I told her. “Life has been good to me.”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry. I am not allowed to accept that.”
About at that moment, another sales associate showed up behind her. “She can’t accept that,” she chimed in.
Okay. Hm. I get it. I get that there have to be rules. I get that there have to be policies to protect the integrity of your workforce. I get that it is your prerogative to make whatever rules you like.
Which is why I finally gave up offering my gift.
Oh, I pushed and attempted multiple times. “It is just a gift, from one human to another.” That didn’t matter. “What if I give you a card in an envelope and you have no idea what’s inside,” I asked her. Again, she shook her head.
But see, she needed what I was trying to give her. The things she said, and the way she replied, was enough to tell me that. At one point she said, “if you had met me in the parking lot then it really could have helped me.” She wanted so badly to accept it. A couple hundred bucks to her could have really made a difference in her life right then. But, rules were rules. And eventually I gave up.
I started to leave the store, but it did not sit right with me. I mean… if I see another human being in need, and I feel compassion toward that human being, and then if I, a fellow human being, want to give her something to make her life just a little easier… Then I should be able to do that. As two human beings, it is a moment between us, and no one else. No one owns her, and no one owns me. Walmart, I repeat. You do not own this woman. You do not own her needs. You do not own her ability to accept kindness into her life. But, rules were rules. And this old woman felt strongly enough that she better keep the rules if she wanted to keep her job.
Without really thinking, I flagged down the Walmart greeter, a happy enough guy given the day it was. I asked if I could speak to a manager. He immediately radioed someone over. Within a minute or two, a dark-haired shorter woman approached and asked what I needed.
I told her that I know Walmart has rules about Employees accepting money or gifts, but that I felt a strong need to give a gift of two hundred dollars to the woman. “How do we make that happen?” I asked. I couldn’t believe what happened next.
She went cold. And I mean, ice cold. “You can’t do that. She can’t accept that. She would get fired.” There was no “oh, that’s nice.” There was no, “thanks anyway, but…” Just ice coldness.
The greeter chimed in at that point. “She can’t accept that. No way.” He also had gone ice cold.
I rolled my eyes. They had given it exactly zero thought and even treated it with some bitterness. So, I asked her to talk to the store manager on duty. The big guy. The chief. The one person who has the ability to make exceptions and not fire the woman for accepting a gift.
It took a while, but finally out strode this tall, stout man in a button down blue shirt. I am sure he had had a day and a half of stress already, and he was not friendly when he walked up. I thanked him for taking the time to talk to me, and again, I told him what I would like to do.
“We cannot do that. She is fine without it,” he told me.
I joked around with him. It didn’t work. I asked kindly. It didn’t work. I gave him a passionate plea about me just being one human wanting to give it to another human. That didn’t work. Finally, when I asked him to confirm that he was indeed the one person who could make sure she didn’t get fired for it, he cut me off. “If you give her that money, she will be fired.”
I shook my head in disbelief. There would be no humanity in that Walmart, that day. Just the general greed of Black Friday, and exhaustion, and resentment, and a black cloud of emotional retail ash.
“Just take that money and donate it to a charity in her name,” he told me as I turned to leave.
“You just don’t get it,” I replied. “You just don’t get it.”
And, I left. Defeated. Saddened that I could not give to another human being when she needed what I had in my pocket more than I did.
Oh, Walmart. Corporate America. People of this great country. We need to fix whatever hole there was in the system in that moment which would not, under any circumstance, and in any situation, let me be a good human being to another human being.
We are all human. One of our greatest purposes is to find happiness. Giving and receiving in thoughtful and selfless ways is an incredible and proven path to more happiness. And doing that is hard enough sometimes, without the people in your company (wherever those people are on the ladder) making it so difficult.
Fix the hole. A hole exists. This is all I ask. There are many thousands of people who work for you who could have just as easily benefited from whatever feelings of humanity overcame me that night. There are many thousands of people who would have done exactly what I did when they came across this employee of yours. This woman. This person.
Please fix the hole. Please fix it soon so that we can all be people, together.