Almost six years ago on an autumn Wednesday afternoon in suburbia, with a five month old baby in tow, I completed a sizeable grocery shop at a major supermarket chain.
Visits to the supermarket are rarely memorable but I remember this trip vividly. Every item had been selected, scanned and packed into bags (of the non-reusable kind given it was 2013) when I discovered, with a sinking heart, I had forgotten my wallet.
Earlier that day I’d had to record one of my daughter’s medicare details so I had retrieved my wallet from my handbag and then left it on the kitchen table. Of course I only remembered this when it was too late.
How could I leave my wallet at home???
The answer was obvious. The hours earlier had passed in the familiar blur of baby-related domestic duties: there were breastfeeds to complete, vegetables to puree, solids to feed, getting my daughter down for a nap, cleaning up, making Bolognese for the toddler’s dinner and then waiting for the nap to finish.
I had been hasty in exiting the house, in itself an undertaking with a baby, but also because of the narrow window of time I had to complete the shop which was full of necessities like bread, milk, nappies and wipes.
The window of time I had was narrow on account of it being sandwiched between the time my younger daughter’s nap finished (naturally later than expected) and the time I had to collect our older daughter, three at the time, from childcare. I was juggling and I was up against the clock.
And, now, none of it mattered. The cashier explained I’d have to leave my groceries behind and come back later. She said it as if ‘coming back later’ was simple.
I couldn’t pay using my credit card, even though I had the details stored in my phone. This was before the ATM technology that lets you withdraw money with just your phone.
There was nothing I could do.
I wanted to cry.
“You’ll just have to come back,” the cashier repeated. Again, as if that was so simple.
‘Coming back’ was going to involve driving to day-care to pick up our toddler, driving back home and racing inside to get my wallet, returning to the shopping centre, unloading both girls from the car and redoing the shop.
It was going to take at least a full hour which would then collide with the next feed time and the fractious hours famed for being particularly intolerable with small children.
I left the shop, collected my toddler and stopped at a service station on the way home to get milk, bread and nappies at a ridiculous premium. The next day I fronted up again to get the rest of the things I’d needed.
If someone – anyone – had stepped in to help that day I would have been forever grateful. I was genuinely sad that no one witnessing the debacle – and there plenty of people around – offered to help.
I would never for a single second expect a stranger to fork out for our groceries but I did wish someone offered for me to use their card so I could repay them. I could have transferred the money into their account from my phone immediately. On the spot. I would have paid a premium. But when I looked around there was no one who even wanted to meet my eye.
If only I had been at a supermarket with Jacinda Ardern, the NZ Prime Minister who did pay for a mum’s groceries recently when she discovered she didn’t have her wallet.
Naturally this revelation was met with disbelief: is there anything this woman can’t do? Is there no end to her decency?
This news didn’t surprise me. Not one bit. Jacinda Ardern has become a global icon for authentic and compassionate leadership because she is authentically compassionate. She is a person who sees the people around her and she cares: it is not possible to be a person of that mould and not help when it’s needed.
Women’s Agenda contributor Kristine Ziwica took to Twitter on Thursday to express her potentially unpopular opinion that Ardern shouting a fellow mum groceries isn’t a major newsworthy event. I agree.
Unpopular opinion: social media going wild for Jacinda Ardern demonstrating basic human decency by shouting a mum who forgot her wallet groceries is too much. I hope there's enough kind people in the world that someone else would have stepped up had affairs of state kept her away
— Kristine Ziwica (@KZiwica) April 4, 2019
Handling an abhorrent act of terror like the mass shooting in Christchurch with the fierce compassion, dignity and resolve that Ardern has is genuinely newsworthy. It is unprecedented and powerful to behold because it’s so rare. Because it gives hope that there is another way to lead, a way that unites rather than divides, in the face of unimaginable horror.
Like Ziwica I sincerely hope that the decency and kindness that it takes to help a fellow citizen in need out, a mum of two in a supermarket without her wallet, isn’t so newsworthy. I hope that kind of decency isn’t so rare that it needs celebrating. But I also know, from my own unfortunate experience, that it’s not widespread. Perhaps I was just in the wrong place but that day there was no one who wanted to help.