For Less Than a Combo Meal

You’re going to think I’m sharing this for a pat on the back, but I promise I’m not.

I’m sharing so that you know how close to home it hits, and that if it’s where you are, I know right along with you — and from my being — how low it hits. And how long it can reverberate.

This afternoon I went into one of the local discount shops for some household supplies. I’m a regular there, as their products are cheap but excellent, and there is always some kind of neato treat (usually a book or snack) I didn’t know I needed but wind up getting. Plus it’s never as busy as the big department store here. Extra bonus.

(It’s Dollar Tree. I’m totally talking about Dollar Tree.)

Anyway, as I fell in line to check out, thinking about weekend plans with my kids, I heard the cashier tell the woman in front of me that her payment method was declined.

My heart took a dive but I tried to play it cool. Busied myself with the junk hanging next to the register.

I tried to discreetly listen (and calculate) as the shopper, somewhere in her 30s or so, said to staff that she would need to take a few things off the transaction. She started picking through the already bagged items to remove some of her goodies, which looked like mostly food.

My heart reversed and soared as I realized not just that I should help, but that I actually could. Today I could.

I haven’t always been in a position to help another. As one who still feels effects from long-term and post-separation financial abuse, which is layered and complicated, I know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck. To have to figure out how you can stretch $40 through a week that needs food and gas and the common incidentals just like every other week of life. To run out of money before payday and have to borrow against yourself. (If you’ve written a check a couple days before you got paid and prayed it would be slow to clear, you know what I’m talking about.)

So I took what I intentionally meant as a gentle step toward her and whispered, “Would it be okay if I covered what you’re not able to?”

Without making eye contact she said, “Yes, please. That would help a lot.”

I don’t know her story. It doesn’t matter what it was.

The three of us — me, her, and our cashier — handled this whole thing like pros. Smooth. Quiet. No fanfare. Exactly as it should be. I marveled as she collected her bags and exited the store.

$8. I helped her with less than $8. Less than a combo meal at any drive-thru franchise.

Oh, it’s not enough. So many giving people and lovely souls have helped me through my own years of struggles. I can never repay them. But I try to pay it forward, and that was definitely what happened today.

I won’t pretend it changed her life, that would be silly. I know better.

I also know how high even a small, unexpected gesture can fill a person who doesn’t know how things are gonna happen.

I’m so thankful I was in that spot and open to that moment today.

I hope that if you’re struggling right now, the universe places a helper in your life.

And that if you’re a little past struggling, you’re able to be the helper.

It’s important to be open either way.

Love to all of you, wherever you fall.

Janna

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