Actually it was $18.98, and it forever changed my perspective on doing good.
It all happened in a little restaurant in Waverly Hall, a small town in Southwest Georgia. This place is like many small town restaurants, with all you can eat meat and vegetables, served buffet style. The food is good, and the people are friendly.
I like places like this.
Like a lot of people, I will often pay for lunch for service members, law enforcement, fire fighters, or anyone else who looks like they could use a little anonymous gift. Whenever I do it, I always sneak out quietly. I don’t know why, but I want to be gone when they find out someone bought their lunch. I’m not looking for a thank you. I just do it.
It doesn’t make me special. It just makes me happy.
On this day, I saw a sweet elderly couple eating quietly across the room. They could have been in their 70s, but you could tell by the way they looked at each other that they were in love, just like the day they were married. He had some health problems that required her to help him more than he liked, but she was gentle and loving…patient and kind. He tolerated her help, and he obviously loved her for it.
I remember thinking…for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. I loved just watching them interact. They reminded me of my grandparents, who I remember holding hands as they would sit and watch TV.
When they finished eating, she helped him outside to sit in the sun while she paid the bill.
I liked them, so I decided to buy them lunch. My plan was pretty simple. Pay my bill. Pay their bill. Leave without getting caught.
It didn’t work out that way. The line was slow, and as I prepared to pay, she appeared to my right, digging in her purse. I was committed at this point, so I told the cashier “I’ve got mine…and I’ve got hers, too.” She said, “Oh no, I can’t let you do that.”
“Well…it’s too late, because I already did it. I got this. I hope you have a great rest of your day.”
So, here’s the part that changed everything for me.
I don’t know what I expected to happen next, but she said, “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.” And then, she started crying.
And then…I started crying.
What is going on here?
Could paying for lunch really be the nicest thing anyone has ever done for her? This didn’t make sense. She wasn’t your typical person in need. I don’t think she needed the money. She wasn’t homeless. She was well dressed. She wasn’t going hungry. She had a nice car. And yet, this simple gesture brought her to tears.
This beautiful woman, with a servant’s heart, just needed to feel appreciated, needed kindness, and needed someone to do something for her. And, I…almost missed it.
I think most people have a heart for doing good. I wonder…as we all look for ways to serve, ways to be generous, or ways to make a difference, how many opportunities like this are hiding in plain sight? How many times do we walk right past people with needs…real needs…that go unattended? Needs that go unnoticed. How do we recognize needs that don’t fit the routine profile?
I still believe we have a duty to serve the homeless, the hungry, the poor, the weak, the underprivileged. But I also believe we have an obligation to look past the obvious to find the needs that hide in plain sight.
In the coming week, offer a gift of kindness or generosity to someone who doesn’t “look” like they need it. Who knows…you might make someone’s day.
If you’re lucky, you might get to cry in a restaurant, with a total stranger.