Yesterday was a horrible day. Vehicle problems, money problems, phone problems...a really bad day. After several trips to the nearby Wal-Mart, I was about to lose my mind.
As I was leaving the store (around trip number three) I was confronted by an elderly woman in the parking lot. She was very short, in her 60's I guessed, and fairly well dressed -- nothing old and ragged, anyway. "Excuse me, sir," she said as I opened my door. "Could you spare a dollar?" She didn't look homeless or overtly poor. She even had a Wal-Mart sack with a few things in it already; I thought a couple of cans of tuna. She didn't look lost or helpless, mental or an experienced beggar. And she didn't smell of cabbage.
Those Three Little Words
"A dollar?" I asked. "What'cha need a dollar for?"
"Groceries," she said, folding her hands. I reached for my wallet.
"Don't smoke, don't drink." I got nothing against either one of those, but I understood that she was telling me that she wasn't going to spend it on booze.
Now as I've said, I was having a horrible day; but this was also payday, and after some troubles to get it, I did have a pocket full of cash. I gave the little old lady one more look over.
"Here," I said. "Take two."
"God bless you!" she said with a smile. Did I jump all over her and tell her that God isn't real? Did I yell at her for assuming that I was only a Good Samaritan following Jesus's teachings in Matthew 5:41, or that I was hoping to gather up some good karma? Did I ask her, "Which God? Zeus? Brahman? Amun? Ngai? Mot? I wouldn't want Mot blessing me..."
An Atheist Volunteer
No, I didn't say that and I wouldn't have -- ever. Even if this horrible day I was having had been thrice as worse. This stranger, this elderly person, asked for my help and was thanking me the best way she knew how. If I were visiting some distant tribe in the jungle somewhere, and they had asked their god to bless me, I would feel honored. I may not agree that it meant anything supernaturally, but it was a gesture of thanks and I took it as such. I just smiled and got into the car.
So why did I help this little old lady? Did I do it for Atheism? Of course not. I didn't do it "in the name of not believing in deities". I did it because I could. I saw a fellow human in need, and I could help that need. Something that all of us should do, not because some God says so, not to get something great in return, not even to further a cause or make a point; do it just because you can. And you know what? It made my day a little bit brighter.