The heat of the afternoon was upon us all in Baja and due to my morning commitments I had to run my errands in the afternoon. I drove the 10 minutes into town and stopped first of all at the water store to get my 5 gallon jug of water filled with alkaline water. I smiled at myself as I (in my broken spanglish) told the water guy I wanted him to only fill it up 3/4 of the way full. He kept looking at me strangely until I showed him my muscles (or lack there of) and that I couldn’t carry the full 5 gallons. He told me no problemo, he would carry to my car. I smiled and said, bueno, but mi casa! too heavi-o. I notice I add an “o” to english words thinking they will magically transpose to spanish words.
My next stop was to the supermarket where I wanted to purchase some fresh fruit. The store today was crowded with tired people just getting off work and there were only two checkers checking. I took my pineapple, watermelon and cantaloupe and stood in line. I believe I was the only gringo in line and I just smiled as they looked at me.
It was then that my focus zeroed in on the young woman in front of me. She looked back at my arms full of fruit and smiled at me as I returned her smile. She had bottle of oil, a bag of rice, a bag of pinto beans and a clown sucker. I noticed the napkins she also placed in her basket she left off to the side. As the cashier was finishing the purchase in front of her she began looking through her wallet, counting her change. I am sure she was hoping she would have enough for the purchase.
As the cashier exchanged her normal greetings of buenas tardes, I could see the woman in front of me begin to worry. As she was given the total she began handing her change to the cashier and just as she was about to put the clown sucker away, I reached over and handed the cashier a 50 peso bill.
The cashier didn’t want to accept it and just stared at me, while the woman was still counting her change. I said in my spanglish again,” por mi amiga.” At this point the woman looked at me as her eyes welled up with tears and said “no, no.”
I smiled and said looking in her eyes,” por mi amiga.” I could see that this one small gesture of kindness on my part meant the world to her. You see, she could have put back that clown sucker, but she didn’t have to. She kissed my hand as a tear slid down her cheek,” muchas gracias senora.”
You see, 50 pesos to me is less than $3.00 in American money. As I paid for my groceries I stepped outside to walk to my car when I saw her sitting outside with her mom and her little child. He must have been about 4 years old and I was able to see the joy on his face as his mom gave him that special gift. When she saw me, she brought him over and said something to him in spanish and he reached over and touched my hair and then hugged me with the sweetest hug. “Gracias, gracias!” he said joyfully.
I left the supermarket knowing that those two words in my morning meditation came alive in my world: compassion and awareness.
As I drove home I uncovered a memory that I hadn’t thought about in nearly 30 years. I was that woman once standing in the grocery store line. I had my son on my hip and a $20.00 bill to buy groceries. As the cashier was ringing up my purchase I could see it was going to be close but not sure if I needed to put anything back. As I stood there I could feel my face becoming flush as she announced the amount I owed. More than the $20.00 I had come to the store with. As I was trying to decide what I didn’t need, there was a kind woman behind me who handed the cashier a 5 dollar bill. I said, “no, no, that is okay, thank you but I can put something back.”
She looked me in my eyes and said, “I am happy to help. You keep it all.”
I thanked her that day and remembered that she didn’t make me feel ashamed but she saw my need and stepped in.
Several years later the Pay It Forward movement happened in the states. I am sure you have all had it happen to you where you were just getting ready to pay for your order at Starbucks and the barista says “the car in front of you just paid for you and says have a nice day!”
As I drove home that late afternoon I recalled that I did what I needed to do, I paid it forward.
I hope that someday this woman will have the opportunity to pay it forward like I was given the opportunity to do 30 years later.