Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Day 226 - Paying for Someone Behind Me in Line

I have never paid for someone behind me in line. When I would periodically hear about these “random act of kindness” they would always catch my interest given the altruistic and touching nature of the stories that came with them; however, I never took it upon myself to engage in the gesture of good will myself. Acknowledging the blessings I have received in my life afford me the opportunity to help a stranger with such an act, I decided early in my “I have never...” journey I would make paying for someone behind me a part of my year of new experiences. Of course, that meant I wanted to have a lasting experience that went beyond simply paying for someone’s drive-thru order or cup of coffee. As a result, I decided my first experience paying for someone behind me in line would have to be tied to something more than a passing event on a day like any other.

As I contemplated about the best way to follow through on my desire to pay for someone behind me in line, my thoughts eventually began moving toward the spirit of giving that is frequently associated with Christmas holiday but often forgotten in the individual actions of many around the season. That disassociation ultimately caused me to settle on the idea of following through on my plan to pay for someone behind me in line on Christmas Eve; a day that I felt should embody spirit of giving more than any other. With intentions to make the most of the experience, I decided on that day I would go to local Wal-Mart in an effort to find a person or family that appeared in need and pay for their last minute Christmas gifts as a gesture of kindness. In that decision, I recognized it would likely be an experience I would remember for some time, but I never expected it to be an event that would move me to my core.

The beginning...
With Christmas Eve upon us, I made good on my plans and headed to a local Wal-Mart store today. As I anticipated, the store was bustling with the activity of last minute shoppers seeking gifts for friends and family before the onset of the Christmas holiday. As I walked into the store, I promptly decided I would take my time in scoping out shoppers as they moved through the aisles, hoping I could locate a person or family that I could help by paying for their items at the checkout line. At first, my effort proved challenging given the surprising number of people that were picking up personal care products, food, and other goods that seemed somewhat unrelated to the pending holiday. As a result, I decided I would work my way back to the toys section of the store where I thought it would be more likely to find someone that fit the profile of someone shopping for Christmas gifts. To my luck, the approach ended up working perfectly.

Almost immediately after I entered the toy section of the store, my eyes fell upon the sight of a woman looking longingly at a display of toys in the center of the aisle. For some time she glanced back and forth from the price tag displayed in front of the toys to the few toys and DVD movies she had already placed in her cart. Doing my best to make myself appear busy, I watched as she stood still before the display before taking a deep breath as a look of disappointment crossed her face. Slightly hanging her head, the woman moved away from the display of toys and started walking her shopping cart further down the aisle.

The woman’s actions were enough to let me know I had found the person I wanted to help by paying for her items. In turn, I casually worked my way to the front of the store, grabbed a bottle of cola as a reason for standing in line, and took up a post near the registers. There I waited for several minutes until I saw the woman I had observed earlier slowly making her way toward the registers. As she approached, I hurriedly moved into action, doing my best not to make it obvious I was trying to cut in front of her in line. As I paced myself near the front of her cart, I waited for some sign she was turning into a register, which came with the slight turn of her cart. In response, I promptly turned with her, establishing the position I needed to make good on my intended “I have never...” event for the day.

Keya and I
A few seconds after we settled into our places in line, I turned to the woman and greeted her with a smile. Without hesitation I announced my intent to pay for her goods. “Hello. If it’s ok with you I would like to pay for your things,” I said bluntly. The woman gave me a confused look and responded in a soft voice that carried hints of an unfamiliar accent. “I’m not sure I’m understanding,” she said looking back to the items she had begun placing on the register belt. Realizing I may have been too forward with my original remarks, I rephrased my statement. “I’m sorry, as a gift to you I would like to pay for your items.” The woman took a step back as her face moved from confusion to shock. “You want to do what?” Smiling, I reiterated my intentions, “As a gift to you I would like to pay for your goods. You get to take them home and keep them. I would just like to pay for them on your behalf. Is that ok?”

Reacting to my offer, the woman took three steps back and raised her hand to her heart as she slowly nodded her head. With that, the cashier shot me a subdued smile and began scanning the woman’s items. As the register beeped with each passing item, the woman looked on with her mouth slightly agape in disbelief. Still holding her hand to her heart, she stood silent as the last of her items crossed the register and were placed into shopping bags. As if the transaction was anything but atypical, the cashier then announced the total, which cued me to pull my credit card from my wallet and swipe at the nearby card processing terminal.

A momento from the experience
Putting the card back into my wallet, I turned to the woman who had shifted her attention to my action at the card processing terminal. She slowly lifted her eyes to meet mine and spoke briefly. “I don’t know what to say...” she said, holding the position she had taken at the beginning of the transaction. “You don’t have to say anything,” I said, “Merry Christmas.” Taking the bags from the end of the register, I turned back to the woman who slowly outstretched her hands to receive the bags. In that moment the reality of the event struck her, causing a look of happiness to light up her face. Overwhelmed with emotion, tears started softly streaming down her face as she grabbed the bags from my hands. “I don’t know... Thank you,” she said quietly as she placed the bags in her cart and turned back toward me. Then, in a moment of candid expression she opened her arms and embraced me in a hug. Wrapping my arms around her in kind, I leaned in and said softly, “You’re welcome. I hope you have a great holiday.”

With that, the two of us grabbed our receipts and began to head for the doors. The woman was quick to tell me the items in her bags were gifts for her children and that my actions would help make her holiday a little brighter. I smiled and placed my hand on her shoulder before asking her for her name. “Keya,” she said smiling, “My name is Keya.” In response, I stopped my feet and turned to her, “Well, Keya, it is nice to meet you. I’m happy I could help make your Christmas a little better.” Keya wiped her eyes once more as she looked back at me. “You have no idea...” she said looking back at the bags of gifts, “This means so much.”

In that moment, a feeling of clarity and peace unlike any I have experienced in my life filled my heart. My taking the time to show someone a simple gesture of kindness had changed the course of Keya’s day and her holiday, which was more than I expected. After posing for a quick picture with Keya, I walked toward the exit of the Wal-Mart feeling more fulfilled than I had in some time. The immediate impact of my actions resonated through me and struck so deeply that I found myself fending off tears of my own as I climbed into my car and prepared to leave for home. An experience that lasted no more than a few minutes left me reeling and made my belief that my “I have never...” year is making me a better person seem much more real. I gained so much perspective from this experience it is hard to fully describe, which leads me to believe the gift I received today is far greater than anything my $57.37 could have purchased. Throughout my life I have heard the phrase, “You get what you give." Today, those words were proven true in my mind.

1 comment:

  1. Damn you. Well - I'm happy I read this post. You are indeed a good man. But you started my day with some tears. This was just as happy a story as the hot pepper one. I had tears of laughter in my eyes then. It sure looks like I need to catch up on your 'never done that before' stories before they go to press. Happy New Year!