Yesterday was extra-special.
It wasn’t because we picked out our beautiful (and HUGE… like, bent-over-at-the-ceiling sized) Christmas tree or gorged on Thanksgiving leftovers or lounged around in the family room watching football games and testing out the new UVerse Karaoke channel.
All those things were pretty awesome (especially the karaoke), but it was what happened at Meijer that really rocked my world.
On our way home from Christmas tree shopping, we stopped at Meijer to get a poster board for Mary Claire’s speech project. Of course, we also picked out five pints of Ben & Jerry’s, too. Why five and not six? Because unlike the rest of us, Chris has a semblance of restraint when it comes to ice cream.
It was a packed house at Meijer — from the parking lot to the register lines, humanity was out in full force. While Chris and the boys waited in the car with the Monster Tree, Mary Claire and I stood in the self check-out lane, juggling pints of ice cream in our freezing hands.
The couple in front of us had about ten items, and they were having trouble with the scanner. I grew impatient as they punched in number after number — mostly because my fingers were all but frozen solid from the Americone Dream.
They finally finished their transaction, and I noticed them whispering to each other. The woman shrugged as the man patted his pockets. They’d either forgotten their wallets or had not brought enough money to cover their purchases.
They hit the “call” button, and a Meijer employee came over to assist.
“I can suspend your transaction if you want to run home and get your money. Your items will be waiting at the service desk when you return.”
Both parties nodded in agreement, and I glanced at the total on the screen. It was an insignificant amount, and I’m ashamed to admit that I thought briefly about the two cars we needed to replace, the mortgage payment that was due, and the Christmas shopping I had yet to begin. I thought of all the reasons why I shouldn’t help two strangers, and then I looked at that woman’s face, red with embarrassment, and remembered why I should.
“Don’t do that,” I said, shaking the excuses from my head and digging into my wallet. “It’s so crowded today, you don’t want to have to go all the way home and come back. What a pain. Here, take this.” I offered enough to cover their total. “Please. I’ve been in your shoes before. Let me help.”
They both stared at me wide-eyed, and I watched as an understanding began to wash over their faces.
“No, we can’t possibly accept that,” the man said.
“Sure you can!” I smiled. “Please, take it. Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukkah or Joyful Whatever-It-Is-You-Celebrate.”
The man reluctantly took the money from my hand.
“Give me your phone number, please,” he said. “Let me make this right.”
“Absolutely not,” I said. “It already is right.”
“Your email address then? Your home address?”
“No,” I said. “Please, just take it.”
Then I noticed the woman, standing behind her partner, tears streaming down her face.
“Look, you made her cry,” the man teased.
“Oh! Please don’t cry,” I said. “It’s no big deal, really.”
“But it is,” she said. “It is a big deal. No one has ever done anything so nice for me.”
She hugged me then, without hesitation. She wrapped her arms around me and held me tightly.
“Thank you,” she whispered in my ear.
“Thank you,” I replied. “Thank you for letting me help. I’m Katrina, by the way.”
“I’m Carla,” she said. “I’ll never forget this.”
“Me neither,” I assured her.
And I won’t.
We smiled at each other again, and they made their way back out into the world. Mary Claire and I rang up our items and joined our boys — and our gargantuan Christmas tree — in the busy parking lot.
I’m not telling you this story so you’ll think I’m a fabulous person. I can assure you that I’m not. I’m impatient and judgmental and moody and quick to anger and slow to forgive. I can also assure you the amount of money I offered that couple was nominal. It would have barely covered a family trip to Starbucks or some refreshments at the movie or a couple of new books.
The moral of the story isn’t about what I gave them, it’s about the giving. It’s about the noticing. It’s about making the effort.
It’s as much a story for me as it is about me.
I had been standing there, growing impatient, hands cold, ice cream melting, eager for them to finish checking out. I could have easily missed my opportunity to make a connection. In fact, I almost did.
How many times do we miss those opportunities?
How often are we so wrapped up in our own concerns that we fail to see what someone else might want or need?
How many lives could we make brighter by simply noticing?
As Carla so clearly demonstrated to me through her tears and her warm embrace, it doesn’t take much. What it takes isn’t necessarily money or a big charitable donation or a day volunteering at a soup kitchen (although all those things, of course, are wonderful ways to give back). Sometimes, however, it’s the intimate, unplanned, one-to-one human connections that mean more than we could possibly imagine.
Carla didn’t cry because I paid for her groceries.
She cried because I saw her.
It takes so little to change the trajectory of a person’s day, or of a stranger’s life.
Be the one who makes a difference for someone else today.
I can assure you, the rewards you reap will be far greater than those you give.