Even though it happened more than twenty years ago I remember it as though it were yesterday. It was a hot summer afternoon and I had gone to my neighborhood supermarket to buy a few groceries. While in the produce section my eyes were drawn to a display of the most perfectly ripe cherries, their brilliant redness intensified by the late afternoon sun streaming in through the front window of the store.
I made right for the bin where the lush orbs were piled high, eagerly anticipating what it would be like when I got home to take hold of the stem of that first cherry and lower it into my mouth feeling its coolness against my tongue while testing its firmness with my teeth before biting into it to release its juicy sweetness.
While I began to fill a bag with the exquisite fruit, I noticed across from me a shabbily dressed and somewhat disheveled elderly woman looking longingly at the cherries, a faint smile on her lips. I watched as she slowly reached for a bag and tentatively placed a few of them into it. But suddenly she stopped, shook her head, and emptied the bag back into the bin. I saw a look of sorrow and disappointment on her face as she turned around toward me before slowly walking away.
I knew why she had put them back: she hadn’t the money for such an extravagance.
I also knew what I was supposed to do: fill a bag with cherries, pay for them, wait for the old woman outside on the sidewalk and then give them to her. But I didn’t. All I could do was focus on myself and what other people might think if they thought my act of charity demeaned her, or that she might feel humiliated, or that I was pitying her by giving her the cherries, or how embarrassed I’d be if she refused to take them. It was all about me.
The great teachers and religions tell us to do whatever we can to help those in need. I knew this, yet I did nothing. I was too caught up in myself, despite the ache I felt for her in my heart.
And now, these many years later, I wonder if that woman ever again tasted the sweetness of a perfectly ripe cherry.