“He didn’t have enough cash on him,” the cashier said to everyone in line at the Wendy’s near our home. “He’ll be right back—thanks for your patience.”
Moments before, an older man—who looked delightfully like Mr. Magoo—had darted from the counter and rushed to his car.
“I’ll pay for it.” How could I not? To buy a meal for Mr. Magoo, well that felt like an honor. “Whatever he got, I’ll pay,” I said, and both Trey and Indy lit up with excitement. Our day was about to get interesting!
“That’ll be $5.25,” the girl said.
“Well, that isn’t much.” Magoo should’ve ordered more. “That’s less than some people spend on a coffee!”
I’d wanted to pay and leave the register before the man returned, but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. Instead, he burst through the doors and dumped a bunch of change on the counter. “I’m sure I have enough now,” he said.
“No worries,” the lady said. “This woman paid for you.”
He turned to me with so much concern. “I don’t take handouts. Please let me pay.”
“I’ve been wanting to do something nice for someone ALL day. It helps get my mind off of what I’m going through.” He went to protest, and I’m not sure why, but I felt like mentioning Father’s Day. I turned to that small man and looked kindly into his eyes. “It’s Father’s Day weekend,” I said, then I reached out and went to rest my hand on his, where he still clutched at the coins. “You’re a father?”
He nodded, but somehow sadly as if a long, tragic story rested behind those eyes. In fact, he had the look of grief that I know all too well—the kind of sadness that is only birthed after losing a child.
“Well, I felt almost inspired to tell you something. Happy Father’s Day! It’s not much, but hey—it’s a free meal!” And then I winked.
Magoo teared up and looked far more grateful than anyone should over five bucks and a quarter.
The cashier came and talked with me after a while and said this kind of thing started a chain of people wanting to pay for each other’s food. This obviously made her day, but before she could go back to her post, she whispered, “You said this helps you get through your own struggles? If you don’t mind my asking, is everything okay for you guys?” She looked from me to Trey to Indy.
Indy bit her lip.
“I have…” I exhaled. “I have stage four cancer. Doctors initially gave me two years to live, but now I could have a lot more. We just don’t know. I keep telling almost everyone I meet to be grateful for what they have. It might sound cliche, but life really is short.”
It seemed as if she’d stopped breathing. “But looking at you; you’re the picture of health. You really have cancer?”
I nodded. “Life is a crazy ride,” I said. “Ya know, seeing how happy that man got over a simple meal someone paid for, it made my whole day shine bright. That kind of gratitude was beautiful. Really.”
“For me too,” she said.
We were just about to leave the restaurant when the manager came up and announced that they wanted to pay for our entire order: three meals. “We were running behind—which is very uncharacteristic of us—and what you did for that man was so kind. Here’s your money back,” the manager said, actually handing me cash.
“Put it toward the next person’s order!” I said and a smile slowly lit his face.
“Okay.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Okay, we will.”
After we got into the car, Trey and Indy kept talking about how exciting our outing to Wendy’s had been.
“Talk about instant karma!” Indy giggled. “I can’t believe they tried to pay for OUR meal!”
“Wow. What a day. That’s the thing with kindness…” Trey said, obviously thinking out loud.
“What?” I asked.
“I rode my bike to the gas station once and a guy paid for my drink. He told me to never forget it and to go do something nice for someone else. Now every time I’m kind, I think about what that man said. I’ll never forget it.”
I nodded. “But how do you think that relates to today?”
“I guess it’s just that…” He paused as if really trying to choose his words carefully. “It’s great what you did, but what means more is all of those people paying for each other’s meals. They’ll probably never forget how today made them feel—especially the people who decided to be kind. And the cashier, I know she’ll never forget us or our story. We made people really happy today because we showed that hardships haven’t gotten us down and we showed them that if we can rise above what we’re going through, no matter what other people are fighting, they can overcome their struggles too.”
I had to look out my window. I didn’t want Trey or Indy to see me cry. I was just so proud of them. Cancer can be devastatingly hard, but the lessons we’ve learned along the way are worth their weight in gold.
My fourteen-year-old son is right. The importance of that moment was lifting each other up and the chain reaction of kindness it spurred. Life is so beautiful. Plus, who knew you could buy all that for just five bucks and a quarter.