Tuesday, January 23, 2024

It Finally Came Full Circle, and It Only Cost $87

Something came full circle, and I'm so excited about it. In 2020, nearly two months after oncologists diagnosed me with terminal cancer, I finally got out of the house. Of course, I had to use a walker after surgeons removed a tumor-ridden vertebra in my lower back. Yet, there's always a silver lining, and I felt surprised to find that grocery carts work much like walkers—and they look better, too.

After a very slooow shopping session, I weaved toward the register, proud of my achievement. Sure cancer has changed my "wins," but I can still revel in accomplishing what I can. Before, success meant finishing a marathon. Now, I'm lucky to get out of bed and do my makeup. Before, I boasted about milestones, degrees, and promotions at work. Now, I'm grateful when insurance companies pay medical bills we've been battling over for years. 

Anyway, going shopping seemed a Herculean task, but I'd done it all alone! Unfortunately, when I went to pay, my card wouldn't go through. I stood so long that my right atrophied leg shook at the register. Why wouldn't the card work? We have a lot of issues—like... terminal cancer—but we're good at stretching pennies and saving what money we have. 

I flushed with embarrassment. (I wish I'd known earlier that the bank shut off our cards 'cause suspicious out-of-country charges aren't a good sign. Too bad I'd gone shopping instead of answering my phone.) 

"It's only $87," I squeaked. "I am so embarrassed."

"It's no big deal, ma'am. It happens all the time," the sweet cashier said. "But I will need you to go over to the customer service area to either return the groceries or figure out a form of payment. More customers are coming."

"I'll take care of it," another cashier said, then darted from her register several feet away, whipped out her personal credit card, and paid for my groceries before I could resist.

"But that was... That was... $87." I balked. "That's a lot of money."

"No big deal."

"Well...," I thought about my previous stay at the hospital, all of the grueling treatments and surgeries. I remembered my ongoing fights with insurance companies and how sometimes death seems easier than all of this. "It was a huge deal," tears filled my eyes, "to me."

Plus, who does that for someone? Especially a cashier?! I don't know how much they make, but she's not taking much home if she helps everyone who saunters through those doors.

The beautiful elderly woman simply returned to her register like she hadn't just saved my day... and then she helped the next person in line. 

"Thanks again," I said, slowly walking past her. My previously aching leg somehow felt a bit better.

"You just enjoy a nice meal with your family." 

Those unforgettable blue eyes twinkled, lighting up the entire checkout area, and it seemed ironic she had no idea what I faced. Her action meant much more than a monetary amount or a well-cooked meal. The timeliness changed my life because it made me feel like G-d "might" have a plan. Even in my loneliest times, sitting with the magnitude of having a terminal illness, preparing for surgeries, or getting long MRIs, I remember her actions. 

"It was a kiss from G-d," a friend told me the next day, and I decided to return the favor. I immediately visited the bank, withdrew $87, and returned to the grocery store. I'd prepared my speech. I wanted to tell the woman with the long silvery hair how much she changed my outlook. "I have terminal cancer," I'd say, "and you gave me fuel to keep fighting for my four children and my husband." I could hardly wait because I wanted her to know how much she blessed my life. But when I got back to the store, the lady no longer worked there; they didn't even have her forwarding address! 

That left me one option: I'd have to... pay it forward.

Since then, when I've gone to get groceries—for almost three years—I've wanted to pay for someone else's food. Unfortunately, it never seems to be the right time, and I don't want to embarrass someone. This has gotten so ridiculous it's a bit like a hunter/prey situation—except I'm a chick who's too excited to do something nice.

Can you believe that after YEARS of waiting, today it finally came full circle?! A man in front of me couldn't pay for his groceries. His face paled as he swiped the card again and appeared mortified. "I'm sorry, sir. They can help you over there."

A bagger materialized out of thin air and escorted the man to the customer service desk. 

I looked at the cashier. "I want to pay his bill." But I could lose my opportunity. Why had they whisked him away that quickly? There are people jonesing to do something nice, but I have issues, and I can only move so fast. 

"Don't you want to know how much it is?"

"No, I just want to pay his bill."

She pointed to the customer service area, and I lumbered over and simply swiped my card. The man stood, pleading with someone on his cellphone, but he hung up and stared at me, slack-jawed. "Did you just... Um. You just... You paid my bill?"

I lit with so much excitement that I could feel it radiating from my eyes. I had shocked the hell out of this stranger. It was the best. Moment. Ever. Kindness is (to use a word my teenage son hates) RAD.

The man looked quite a bit older than me, but after I paid his bill, a massive smile spread across his face, waking up all of his features until the worry and fatigue of life crumbled in the wake of happiness. He looked so young and full of life.

"Yes, I paid. It's no big deal," I squealed because I felt like a Jedi or something.

"But that was... $87!" he said, looking beyond shocked.

Chills ran up my spine and tingled in all the places where doctors say I have cancer. $87! I could hardly believe his bill was the exact amount that angelic woman had paid years before. Suddenly, sickness and cancer didn't matter to me—they were just words that can't damper my love for life. I felt so much joy in simply being alive and enjoying the moment.

The wonder in that man's eyes filled my soul with such hope. Even when I returned home, I gushed with pure happiness. I have been waiting for this moment, and it finally happened for me. $87 spent on my groceries and now someone else's! It seemed like it hadn't even been my money at all. Just like everything in my life is a gift. Everything. 

Life is beautiful. Oncologists said I'd never live to see 2023, but he

re we are in 2024, and I'm so grateful. Thank G-d for experiencing the greatest win in life—just being alive. Even if my goals are different than they used to be, I've realized what really matters. It's not about the degrees we attain, the books we write, the mountains we climb; it's about helping others along the way.

1 comment:

  1. This was so beautiful. You are an incredible woman and writer. Thank you for sharing!