I asked my family if this New Year’s Day they’d be up for a challenge: to give a dollar to someone we don’t know.
We had planned to go to the city so each of us could give our dollar maybe to someone who was homeless. (It seemed to make the most sense). But my youngest had a fever and Alex was feeling like he was coming down with something so that wasn’t possible.
It was getting late and even though the sun had gone down on New Year’s Day, our challenge seemed to be turning into, well, a challenge.
Alex agreed to drive and I would give our combined $4 to whoever was behind the register at the convenience store down the street.
We were a little nervous—this isn’t typical for us. We wondered what would he think? Would he be confused by our gesture and question why so little?” Maybe we should be giving more, but that’s all we had on us, so it would have to do.
But then I remembered, “Just think about how excited you are when you find even a quarter. I think he’ll be happy.”
The closer we got to the store, I decided I’d go in alone so we didn’t overwhelm the person and I’d definitely give it to the worker behind the counter. There are so many stories about the person buying coffee, etc. for the guy in line. And those are beautiful gestures, too, and are just as special. But what about the guy who has to work there?
This was our way to change it up, well, $4 up.
So I prayed that the person working there would be the right person. The person that $4 would mean something to…For some reason that mattered to me.
But there was still the biggest question, what would I say? I pushed that thought away when I saw my stranger through the doors: the man behind the counter. He was checking out the only customer in the store. So I let them finish up their transaction and then entered.
The worker kindly said to the customer, “Happy New Year.” I knew he was the one.
The doors jingled and the customer left calling to mind that scene in the movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. Remember that famous quote? “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” Trust me, no angel was getting any wings here, but I grinned at the thought anyway.
He turned to me and asked, “What can I do for you?” He smiled back, it was faint, maybe it had been a long day, but he didn’t show it. He gave his full attention to me and what I might need.
I handed him the money and he took it and waited patiently for my answer. Cigarettes? Isn’t that what he keeps behind the counter? I had to explain, and quickly, as this was rather unusual. I said, “This is for you.“ And I found the words to say, his words, in fact, “Happy New Year!”
He took it, but he kept his hand outstretched, holding the money gingerly so I could change my mind and take it back. Funny that play on words change my mind. Or clearly this was a prank. But I didn’t move. I asked for nothing.
I nodded my head yes and said, “It’s for you.”
He looked at me so deeply he could have even had tears in his eyes, but he didn’t.
He asked, “But why?”
I said, “Just because.” And the pause we shared between us was the gift I would carry away with me. I smiled and then I said, “Happy New Year!”
And he looked at me with his eyes so deep with love or gratitude or awe or disbelief or maybe all of the above. The power in his eyes was so great you would have thought an angel had just come into the room. But that angel already was with us, remember the bells?
He never even looked to see how much money it was. In fact, it wasn’t even money anymore. In his eyes, and hopefully reflected in my own, was the deeper knowledge that what we had exchanged was far greater.
I left and got back in the car. It felt like a get-away car, Alex and I both felt so flustered. Alex was awkwardly trying to get out in the wrong direction and then righted himself and started backing up all while the man stood at the door and stared after us. I waved a couple of times but he didn’t wave back. He just looked.
Alex finally righted the car and was getting ready to drive on so he rolled down the window as the man opened the store door and we heard the bells jingle. Alex was a bit touched too and he accidentally yelled out “Merry Christmas” and then he corrected himself and said “I mean Happy New Year!”
And then the man found his voice again and said, “Happy New Year.”
But there was a quiet way about him. There was that look on his face the way your parents would look at you when they had just waved you goodbye and you were leaving. It was a moment so sacred that words don’t describe it. Maybe we all had been truly touched by that angel.
When we got home, my oldest asked me to write it down (she’s always badgering me to write down my stories while they’re still fresh). She wanted me to make it my next blog post, but I told her I wouldn’t be able to, “It was too sacred of a moment”.
So she said, “Then at least write it down before you forget.”
So I wrote it down, and then, as only my daughter knows best, once written, how could I not share? There’s no way I can break the sacredness that had transpired that night. It happened, I would only be so lucky to be able to find the words to explain it.
The story started off and it was small change for me too. But when those bells jingled, the story took on a whole new dimension. We were all touched by that angel.
A Muse 4 You: Did you ever have that moment where small change multiplied to make such a big difference in the life of a stranger?