I admit that I have been somewhat hesitant to blog about this as it could make me sound like the hero. I don’t view myself as a hero, nor do I want to be considered that way, but instead, I want to share how I was moved. Let me start with a bit of a backstory for perspective.
Over a year ago, I received word that my beloved great aunt had passed away. I prepared myself to drive the 1,000 mile, 15 and a half hour trip to Long Island (New York). My parents encouraged me to look for a flight at a reasonable price and, to my surprise, I found one cheaper than what it would cost to drive. So I woke up thinking I was driving and went to bed preparing for a flight the next day.
In my hurry to leave town, I stopped at Chick-fil-A to grab a quick dinner. Understand, I’m not too fond of the drive-through. I avoid it whenever I can. I like the social interaction of which a drive-through lacks. I want to see the face of the person taking my order and make sure he or she understands my order. When I go into the store, I forget my cell phone, the very device that I have come to trust to cover almost every aspect of my life. I use this 14 oz touch-screen to pay for my meal because I always have it with me. Where did I forget it? In my vehicle… on the parking lot… less than a minute, round trip.
I pulled out the credit card I had in my pocket, but the card failed. I told the young lady at the till I’d be right back as I prepared to run for the door. By the point, she had already signaled to her manager, who came over and tried the card one more time. When my card failed, she gave me my meal for free without any further questioning or considerations. I insisted that I had the money, but she repeated, “It’s no problem. It is taken care of.”
I have to admit I felt a little guilty. Why did I deserve this free meal? Was I taking advantage of the fact that my phone was not readily available? Then I realized that I never asked for it. I told them I was ready to run out to my truck to get it and pay for my meal. I never asked them to help me out and insisted that I could cover it. But was it really about the money? NO!
I was leaving town to go to the funeral of one of the most cherished people in my life. Between where I stood and that funeral was a three hour drive to the city where I would catch my flight, a hotel stay, leaving my vehicle parked on the lot, getting a shuttle to the airport, getting through security with my carry-on luggage, catching my flight, meeting up with my parents on Long Island… Ok, I think I made my point. There was a bit of stress involved in this. A non-functional credit card was adding to an exhausting situation. The staff took that stress away without asking any questions.
Fast forward to the present. It’s a Sunday morning. The church is virtual due to COVID-19, but I’m the assisting minister this particular Sunday. As I get ready to leave for worship, I instinctively look at the tires. The recent and rapid change in temperature has caused one of my tires to go flat. We are blessed enough that I can use the other vehicle to go to church.
After church, I ran a few errands, inculding getting what I’ll need to put air in the tire before moving the vehicle. I make a quick stop at the gas station. While I’m there, a mother had put gas in her van and came in to pay for it. I missed the initial exchange. As I came to the register, she was out in her vehicle. She was franticly looking through her purse while the kids were looking through the rest of the van.
I’ll admit, I know who the family is. I don’t know much about them. One thing I really don’t know is their financial situation. I have no reason to assume they are having financial difficulties. I didn’t know how she had attempted to pay in the first place or why she was looking for more payment. I’m not sure that she ever turned to anyone and gave any indication that she may not be able to cover the bill.
I saw them looking through the vehicle. I looked at how much of the bill was left. It wasn’t much. I told the cashier I’d cover it for her. From the response of the cashier, I believe there are many good Samaritans out there. I think she has watched others help out in the past.
The cashier offered for me to take the receipt to the woman, and I declined. The only reason I approached her was to let her know that they could stop the frantic hurry of trying to find a way to pay for the gas. I would have been perfectly happy to let her go without ever knowing where the money came from or how it was covered. Again, it wasn’t about the money. It was ending the stress. It was the ability to move on with the day. It was making one less struggle.
I started with a reflection on how others helped me. I reflected on what a difference it made in my day. I don’t believe the fast-food restaurant’s staff’s actions called me to pay it forward. I believe it was an intrinsic desire to be part of a caring community. I wanted to help someone in need. It isn’t the form of “needy” we are used to, but needy has several forms. To this day, I take joy in sharing with her and her family to take away that one stress they didn’t need.
Above all, it isn’t about the money!
Addendum: I was fortunate enough to have a chance to sit across the table from the manager I mentioned above. While she was working on getting some business stuff organized I took the opportunity to share the rest of the story with her. That day, she only knew my credit card didn’t work. I explained that I was on my way out of town for a funeral, and what the gesture meant to me. I was happy to share as I saw the joy on her face (even if it was COVID-mask covered) to hear my side.