I was in the checkout lane at the grocery store late last night, behind a family of five from a semi-agrarian religious community. In my head I was thinking of how much I admired their testament of faith--to wear their dresses and bonnets, but to also be out and about as their faith allowed.
At the end of their checkout, something wasn't quite right. Part of their purchase--the nutrient dense foods like cheese, milk, and tuna, weren't getting rung up right. There was a problem, and then a delay. The mother was getting flushed. At the end of her purchase, six cans of tuna fish weren't able to be subsidized, and she told the cashier she wasn't going to buy them.
I am not a saint or missionary. Heck, I'm not very generous either. I mean, most of my life is spent scrubbing dirt under filthy boy fingernails, and unmentionable substances off of little boys' buns. There are times when I long to serve, to love the little orphans in Africa and Haiti, to win the lottery only to give it away to those who are hungry and cold. But, I am a mother of three young boys, and my time, treasure, and talent is wrapped up in loving and serving these souls.
But, since I was without my three amigos at the grocery store, I gathered up all my introverted courage, all of that welled-up missionary waiting to get out and shower love, and intervened. "Ma'm," I said, "I will pay for those."
The Ma'm looked confused, then quickly said, "No, no, it's okay really," and her face turned red. Then I felt really bad because I realized I had embarrassed her.
"No," I pressed on, "I would really want to buy those for you." I thought I was more serious this time.
She paused, then went on again. "Thank you, but really, no." And it was final. I did the best to hide both of our embarrassment by cooing at her little baby and talking about my own little baby.
I hesitated to share this story because I thought it made me sound a little presumptuous. I wanted to give, perhaps because in many ways I am unable. But with this one thing I could help, with this tiny purchase, I could make a difference. I wanted to love, and I wanted to share that with others outside my family.
On my sidebar is Minnesota Mom's blog. Several years ago she wrote a story about shoe shopping with her (then) five kids. At the checkout the bill was much more than she expected, and it shocked her. "I have to think about this a minute," she said to the cashier as she mentally processed the numbers. Then, a woman came up and said she was going to pay for the shoes. Maggie refused. Then, after some discussion they each paid half.
The story stuck with me. Minnesota Mom accepted the generosity of others, even though it goes against just about everything in our culture to accept someone's graciousness. I think I would have blatantly refused the same offer Minnesota Mom did, and instead been scared and skeptical.
The "pay it forward" mentality definitely has merit. People I don't even know have done very kind things for me and my family--covering whole dinners at restaurants, giving deep discounts or not charging for services, and people going out of their way to encourage us one way or another. These are not easy things to do, and I am always humbled by the gesture. Being so busy at home, when I'm out alone, when an opportunity presents itself where I can actually contribute something is rare.
And you, on the side of the road with the smoking car hood up...sorry...not pulling over. Sista doesn't do that.
In this case, at least I tried. My intentions were pure and I just wanted to do the right thing. I mean, could I have really done nothing and not felt like I was doing wrong by the omission? Until the next opportunity, I will do what Mother Theresa said to do to promote world peace, "Go home and love your family."
For now, that's all I can do. With great love.