Christmas brings extra cooking, cleaning, decoration, wrapping and visits with friends. All good stuff, but all fit into a short period.
December is always a stressful month. As much as I love Christmas, it adds a lot of extras that all have to fit into one month of the year. Much of this past December I felt like I was constantly fumbling a football. I couldn’t get anything right. Overall, I laughed it off and saw it as comical, but I have no doubt some people I work with may have been frustrated when I was making mistakes or not responding to emails.
The Monday before Christmas I decided to get my act together. I was going to make a master grocery list and go to the grocery store one time for the following two weeks. With calendar and recipe book in hand, I recorded everything I could possibly need for baking, house guests, and cold winter days. It was a fail. I ended up going to the grocery store every day that week for something I’d forgotten.
In addition to groceries, I was trying to get a copy of the Wall Street Journal that I wanted as a gift. Every time I went to Stop and Shop they were sold out. I’d failed at picking up the WSJ at multiple locations that week. Hard copies of a newspaper are just hard to come by. On Thursday morning, I decide that I’d get to Stop and Shop first thing. I’d finally get a copy of the WSJ on my third visit to Stop and Shop that week. I ran over. One copy left. I grabbed if off the rack and headed through the store to grab another item I’d forgotten. At self-checkout I processed my two items, reached into my purse, and realized I’d forgotten my wallet at home. It was beside my computer where I’d been ordering gifts the day before.
I couldn’t believe it. I was going to have to go home and come back for the fourth time this week. This was crazy. And worst of all, I could lose the only hard copy of the WSJ that existed in Wethersfield, Connecticut. I started to think. Multiple thoughts raced through my head trying to solve the problem. How could I pay without money or a credit card? Did Stop and Shop accept Venmo? Why hadn’t I downloaded Apple Pay? Oh, maybe I could call Matt and he could give me my credit card number over the phone.
I dialed his cell. No answer. I dialed the home phone we never use. At which point, since I wasn’t following directions the self-checkout was flashing and an employee came over to ask what was wrong. “Oh, I forgot my wallet and I’m going to have to go home and get it. I can’t believe this,” I said utterly exasperated.
Then another customer, the man in the next checkout lane, came over and said, “Hit cash. I got you covered. Merry Christmas.” I was conflicted and embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. My total was ten dollars. I didn’t need this man’s money. There was time to go home and solve the problem, but he was saving me so much time. I was grateful. But I wasn’t in need.
As if reading my internal conflict the employee who’d asked what my problem was said to the man, “No. Do not give her your money. She is plenty capable of paying for her own food. There are starving children with no food. Give your money to them.” Now I was really mortified.
He remained kind and said to her, “Don’t worry. I’m just helping her out. She’ll pay it forward. It will all work out.” The employee insisted. “She does not need your money. She is fine.” He’d already processed the payment. I walked thanking him, more for the time than the money.
But the experience stayed with me. I felt embarrassed, guilty—it was just another example of how I couldn’t get my act together. And then I grew really annoyed at the Stop and Shop employee. She was completely right. I am capable of paying for my own food. But does the fact that I’m capable mean that I’m undeserving of kindness? And who talks a stranger out of helping another stranger in their own community?
Here’s the message. We all deserve kindness for different reasons at different times in our life. It was okay for me to accept the man’s kindness, because he, not myself nor the Stop and Shop employee, gets to decide who he’s going to touch throughout the day.
I’ve been trying to continue to pay it forward because it really did mean that much in the moment, but ultimately, I think the best I could do would be to find the woman from Stop and Shop and do something kind for her. She seems to need to be treated kindly the most.
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