Pay It Backward

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Two days before Christmas I was standing at a Little Caesar’s buying a pizza and some breadsticks for a quick dinner.  When I walked in, I noticed a man at the counter in a Vietnam veteran’s hat, paying for his order. As I placed my order and subsequently waited for it, I heard him counting his change and asking the kid behind the counter how much a 20 ounce soda was. He wasn’t sure he had enough money. It appeared that he had about 90 cents in his hands, give or take, so when the kid answered that it was $1.89, the man started to put his change away. Quickly, I reached into my wallet and handed him a dollar. I was going to hand him two, but I was low on cash.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“Sure.  It’s not a problem.”  Then I smiled and looked at his hat. “It’s the least I can do.”

The man then gave me a hug, told me he didn’t get paid until the next day, talked about the work his church did for low income people and how he helped and mentioned how the kid behind the counter told him the lettuce that would comprise his salad might be a bit wilted but that he “had worse meals than that in Vietnam.” He also told me that he was having a bad week and I really helped him.  I wished him a Merry Christmas as I left.

As much as it wasn’t for me, you kind of get a high helping people. It feels good to make the world a better place. It also helps to know that there are people out there who give at least half a damn.


I was at a CVS the Monday after Christmas and an older woman in her mid to late 70s (at least) forgot her wallet at home and started to walk home–not to her car, but to a neighboring subdivision–in 15 degree weather, I went back into the store and purchased her goods and told the clerk that I would bring them to her and if I couldn’t find her, I’d at least bring them back and leave them for her. It was too damn cold for her to have to walk back.  But despite trying heartily to find her, I had to return to CVS to leave them with the clerk. When I walked back in, the lady was waiting for me (go figure, she didn’t live far) and refused to let me just hand her the items without repayment.

“It’s not a big deal,” I said.

“It is a big deal,” she replied. “I need to pay you.”

And here’s where I got really cocky.  “Just pay it forward.”

“No, I’m not going to pay it forward. I’m going to repay you.”

Well, that made me and the store clerk uncomfortable. JUST TAKE THE $31.16 IN SOUP, COOKIES, CHIPS AND WURTHER’S ORIGINALS (I’m not even making that part up) AND PAY IT FORWARD. JUST LET ME LEAVE THIS AWKWARD SITUATION.

But she refused. She fished through her purse until she came up with $31.00, at which point the clerk convinced her that it’d be okay if she didn’t give me the 16 cents. I left, somewhat embarrassed and a bit defeated.

I’ve been thinking about the two situations a lot since then.  And, to be perfectly honest, I feel more than confused about how to interpret how things went down.  Where’s the lesson? Where’s the encouragement to do more good things? Isn’t that how the world is supposed to work? Aren’t we all supposed to live like Haley Joel Osment and Helen Hunt and pay that shit forward?


I’ve been thinking a lot about this past year lately. Next week, the girls will turn a year old and the most unbelievable year of my life will turn into another chapter of the book of me. As we inch closer to that date, I keep being reminded of all of these things that were occurring last year at any given moment. And then I flash forward to the days and weeks and months after their birth when, in a sleep and sanity deprived haze, I found it difficult to accept help to the point where, truth be told, I’m lucky I didn’t pop my staples out lifting something I shouldn’t have or end up with an infection or worse.

But despite usually refusing help, I appreciated every honest offer of assistance more than I could express.  And, no doubt, if some young woman had tried to pay for my $31.16 in CVS purchases, I would have insisted on paying her back.

Maybe the lesson isn’t one in doing good things for others. Maybe the lesson is knowing that some people find it difficult to appreciate that kind of thing in the moment.  The lesson could just be to understand that I am just as difficult to help as anyone–even when I really should accept that help.

I REFUSE to believe that I spent half an hour purchasing this woman’s provisions, driving around to find her and then returning to the store to be forced to take back $31 and not have there be a lesson behind it.

And that, my friends, is the level of stubbornness it takes to refuse help.




3 comments for “Pay It Backward

  1. mmm
    January 9, 2014 at 1:54 am

    Got something in my eye. Nope, not tears in my eyes. Yep. Just some allergies.

  2. January 10, 2014 at 9:20 am

    The other week at the grocery store, an older lady asked me if I had 12 cents because she was short. I gave her a quarter. At first she insisted on giving me the 13 cents, but finally I convinced her to keep it.

    Maybe your lady never saw Pay It Forward.

    • kim
      January 20, 2014 at 4:29 pm

      I should go back to that CVS with a copy of the movie for her. “WATCH THIS AND LET ME BE CHARITABLE!”

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