The Pleasures of Paying it Forward

I couldn't wait to do my “Pay it Forward” assignment since the moment I learned about it in class in April. After much deliberation I ultimately decided to do my acts of kindness at the local grocery store one recent sunny afternoon. I purchased two bouquets of flowers intended for women and one scratch-and-win ticket for a man. I waited outside with anticipation, eyes glued to the door in order to do a quick assessment of the individuals walking through to determine if they felt right for my offering.

I was a bit nervous, but mostly just eager to see what would unfold.

The first lucky lady was Lucy. She walked out and I said, “Hi. I’d like to give you these!” as I reached the flowers out toward her. She looked around to see if anyone else had witness the usual exchange, clearly quite puzzled. It was obvious she thought I wanted something in return.

Well I reassured her that I was only trying to do a small gesture to brighten her day, and after enough seconds spent showing her my big smile, she finally relaxed and opened her arms wide enough to enfold me into a huge hug. “Wow,” she said. “How so very kind of you. They’re beautiful.”

It was only then that I noticed the grocery store logo on her shirt, a sign that she was an employee and probably had just gotten off a long shift. Likely counting the seconds until she was out into the fresh air and free for the remainder of the day, the last thing she probably was anticipating was a stranger surprising her with a gift. This realization made me even more delighted to be giving her the flowers. We said pleasant goodbyes and I stepped away to find the next lucky person. 

But before I could get very far I heard her soft voice rise from behind me. “I keep thinking there is a catch here. It seems too good to be true,” she confessed.  So I shared with her an explanation of the class assignment, and this inspired an interesting discussion about how the status of the world and how sad it is that it is nearly impossible to believe that someone could be doing something sweet without asking anything in return. We bonded over the shared sentiments that this has to change. Soon. In the end, her husband drove up to pick her up. She opened the car to greet him and exclaimed gleefully, “Hon, look what I got from Sarah!” She waved happily to me as they drove off.

My next interaction was with a Dad and his little girl. She was probably about six years old and dressed entirely in rainbow - my kind of gal! I told them that I was sure that I had a lucky ticket in my hand, and wanted them to have it. The girl looked briefly up at her Dad for approval (who looked almost as puzzled as Lucy), but her excitement prevailed and she snatched it out of my hand with a mischievous look on her face.  

I then noticed that the Dad was holding a birthday cake, which I soon found out was for the girl’s mother’s birthday party that evening. “Perfect!” I said, pleased about the perfect timing of it all. “You can give her this as a gift, or keep it as a treat for yourself.” I gave her a wink, which caused her to blush and well up with what I imagine was a mixture of pride and nerves and excitement. Oh how I used to be in complete awe of older girls when I was her age. She repeated one thank you after another until her Dad finally started yanking her in the direction of their car. It was party time, after all. Before they were out of earshot I heard her say to her Dad, “That was so nice of that kind lady.” Well my heart most definitely filled up with a bit of extra love in that moment, also so grateful to have been model for someone of the next generation a different way of interacting with fellow humans.

Lastly, I spotted a woman on the other side of the parking lot trailing behind two teenage on their way back to their car. Her pace and posture communicated serious fatigue, and I imagined her head full of words cursing her husband who was out playing golf or having a beer with his buddy while she was expected to go home to cook. Couldn't he help her out just ONCE? 

I felt a nudge inside of me indicating that this woman was most definitely meant to receive the final flowers. But a little voice piped up saying, "Nah, they are too far away. It would be stupid to try to catch them."

Well, just as quickly as the negative thought came to me, my feet started moving and I was off running across the parking lot to catch her. “Excuse me!” I yelled out. She turned around, confused. “Are you a mother?” “Yes I am,” she said, gesturing to the boys. “Well happy early Mother’s Day,” I said warmly, reaching out to give her the flowers. By now I wasn’t phased by her suspicious look, but it quickly faded into a huge grin. She too opened her arms for a big bear hug. “Gosh, isn’t this just the loveliest thing! Boys take note here!” She beamed at me and turned toward her car, a noticeably new perk in her step. 

I walked away from my last gesture with goose bumps from head to toe, which is always a sign to me that spirit is close and I’m where I’m supposed to be. I actually felt elated, on a high, and whatever worries or annoyances that had plagued me throughout the day had vanished. Poof! It was a such a physical reminder that absolutely nothing feels as good as giving to others, yet the nature of our world is that most of us are so absorbed in our tiny personal bubbles that we do not make as much time for this kind of stuff as we could and should. Myself included. 

One of the most unexpected parts of the afternoon was the fact that the women hugged me. It seemed so intimate considering we had been complete strangers only seconds before, but how beautiful that a small interaction could completely shift feelings of comfort and connectedness. Generosity and love is potent stuff. The real deal. 

What I also loved about all my recipients was that, unintentionally, more than one person witnessed the exchange. I am optimistic that all those present will continue to reflect on what they saw over the coming days and months and maybe years, and now may be more likely to pass on their own gestures of kindness, or at least share the story with others who might decide to do something similar. This is how change happens. Slowly, but powerfully.

How amazing would my life look and feel like if this was my every day? 

Not necessarily always buying things for people, and not necessarily on this scale, but making the deliberate choice to go out of my comfort zone with generosity and kindness daily

How amazing would the world look and feel like if this was all of our days?

Start with me today in trying to make that possible? I promise it will feel good. Really good. 


"We can do no great things - only small things with great love." - Mother Teresa