by Sylvia Lanz
We were on our way to the theatre in London. We had just arrived at Liverpool Street Station of the Underground train and needed to buy our “Tube tickets.” I saw an automated ticket machine that was free and made a beeline to it, making sure no one had a chance to get ahead of me, not because we were in such a terrible rush, but because that is what you do in a hurried world. It’s important to be first, and goodness knows you don’t want some dodo in front of you who hasn’t got the right change or doesn’t know where they are going!
Arrogantly, I pressed the right buttons and started feeding in my change. Exactly the right change, I will have you know, because I expected to use such a machine and I am an extremely organized person! Well, at least that’s what I thought….
Because here I was in the middle of a crowded ticket lobby in front of an automated ticket machine which couldn’t give change and I was 20 pence short. My first response was to dig deeper in my handbag, because I was really sure I had the right amount of change. Then I started thinking. Had I got the price wrong? Had the price gone up? Did I make a mistake counting my money? Had I spent my change elsewhere during the day?
My husband didn’t have change either and I was still very busy explaining to him how I was certain I had the right change and how this embarrassing situation wasn’t my fault when his attention was drawn to the woman behind us. I had noticed her, too, but was trying to ignore her as I was busy with my own problems and didn’t have time for her.
Turns out she was asking if we needed change. I explained that, unless she could break a twenty pound note, she could not help us. She asked what we needed and I replied I was 20 pence short. She simply handed me a 20p coin. I made it clear that I couldn’t repay her but she just said, “Well, 20 pence won’t break me.”
That sentence shocked me. I had been so busy in my own little world, being proudly independent, solving my own problems, and expecting others to solve theirs. If our positions in line had been reversed, I’d have rolled my eyes and made a few pointed sighs implying that she was taking too long instead of stepping in and helping.
I feel somewhat awkward telling such a silly little story, but something about the easy-going nature of that lady struck me. Those 20 pence gave me a much needed reminder that, no matter how able we are, sometimes we all need a bit of help. It also gave me a chance to laugh at myself and my constant organizing. Maybe I’ll strive to be a bit less perfect and a lot more human.