While I was paying for a jute doormat, the salesman asked me if I’d like to make a donation toward some children’s charity.
“Uh, sure,” I said. “Two dollars?”
He suddenly produced a string of jingle bells and started pealing it jubilantly. “Thank you!” he screamed, as all his colleagues joined in with similar enthusiasm. I looked at the floor in shamed horror.
As he handed me the large plastic bag containing the prickly mat, I overheard the woman at the next register ask a customer if he, too, would like to make a donation.
“I’m fine,” the guy said, as casually as possible.
I’m fine. As if his well-being had ever been in question! And yet, she accepted his refusal without visible resentment. And maybe he was fine: fine with the decision to not give some nominal amount. Fine with who he is. Fine not being pressured. Fine not being celebrated, as if two dollars is real generosity. Maybe he chose to give differently. Maybe he was really selfish. Whatever: he was fine.
And then, outside, there was a guy with a clipboard blocking my path. “Do you want to end bullying?” he demanded, seemingly without irony.
I wanted to say it, even then I wanted to say it: I’m fine. I wanted to be fine. I wanted to be fine coming out of a store with a large bag and still not helping to end bullying. I even wanted, maybe, to be the one with a jingle bell. But instead I turned to avoid him, and muttered, “No, thank you,” and he turned on a man with a small child.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.