Saturday, July 20, 2013

Paying It Forward

Even the brain of a young 62 year old can be addled by the heat wave we experienced last week. I was in the grocery store buying a few last minute provisions for a dinner party I was hosting that evening. In the check out line I was cheerily chatting away with a woman ahead of me. She was still loading her purchases into plastic bags as my items were scanned. I suddenly discovered I had forgotten my wallet! I was stunned and horrified and quickly asked the clerk if she would hold everything but the ice cream, which I would return to the freezer, and then go back, fetch my wallet, and return to pay for my groceries. Before the clerk could respond, the nice lady with whom I was chatting said, “Allow me to pay for your groceries.” Naturally I replied, “Oh no, I couldn’t allow that. I’ll just come back in a few minutes.” She insisted suggesting, “You can pass the gesture on one day to someone else.” I graciously accepted her kind offer and thanked her sincerely.

The kindness of strangers is powerful. For her $20 outlay I felt such gratitude, it was as though she had solved a really big problem. No one had ever done this for me before – thankfully I do make a point of carrying money with me to the grocery store. There have been plenty of times when I have helped people in line who needed an extra fiver, but I had never been in such a spot myself. Believe me when I say the feeling is quite different when the shoe is on the other foot.

I am reminded of a time when a friend and I were shopping for groceries one Christmas Eve. We were buying what we needed to make lobster chowder for the people with whom we were spending Christmas. My friend noticed a somewhat disheveled young woman with two small children picking through the bargain bins with a very forlorn expression. He went over to her and asked her if she needed any assistance. She was so happy to hear his voice and his offer. She went on to explain that she was struggling to put a nice meal on the table for her and her children. Without a moment’s hesitation, he said, “It’s Christmas. I want you and your children to have a wonderful meal. I want to give you the groceries as a gift.” Naturally she was dumbfounded and with very little resistance accepted his offer. They went around the store and filled a cart full of turkey and all the fixings for a lovely Christmas dinner. He cheerfully paid for the groceries and carried them to her car, tears streaming down her face.

She said she wanted his address so she could thank him properly. He handed her a business card, gave her a hug and wished her a Merry Christmas. Two weeks later, after we returned from our holiday, a note arrived in the mail from this woman. She was so grateful and her story was so warm and tender. She cooked a beautiful meal for her and her children and because of his gesture could even afford a gift for each of them. The power of that thank you note was so incredible that we both just started to tear up. We have never received a more sincere note or a more cherished gift from anyone.

Giving of oneself is appreciated at all times by everyone – it is a universal human dynamic. Imagine if we all experienced giving and receiving throughout the year –perhaps even more so than we already do? Wouldn’t our world be a different place! I know I will never forget these special times when both giving and receiving made such an impression. It’s just a thought, but why not make a conscious effort to offer a random act of kindness everyday? The benefits are immeasurable, the joy everlasting!