Pay it Forward Died with Me

Before I get too deep into the nitty gritty of this story I want to make it clear that I am not a bad person—for at least 96.2% of the time. That other 3.8% consists of a couple of things that I will just never share (and is the biggest reason why I resist trying any kind of hypnotherapy) and a few things that just make me feel like an utter asshole. I just want that bigger number to be known before I cop to something that has kind of led me down a shame spiral lately. No, I didn’t physically harm anyone or kick anyone while they were down, I just, when it comes down to it, wanted to be selfish for a minute.

It hadn’t been that great of a day for me, and work was really just bringing me down. I was in the midst of one of those never ending days that I felt I had already lived over and over and over again. The library programs that I had put together for the kids went horribly awry (largely to my mental lethargy and a new kid that was really a bully in the making) and I truly could have walked out the front door and never come back. But since I knew that I needed to keep working if I ever hoped to continue to feed my Disney World addiction (a story soon to come) I pulled on my (very) big girl panties and charged on through the day.

I yearned for the sweet moment when I would be able to hightail out of the library parking lot and find a safe haven to have a life affirming lunch with my own pleasant (ha ha) company. Of course, like many days before this I had many things to eat just waiting patiently for me in the staff kitchen, but I shunned them all in favor of whatever the hell I wanted that wasn’t in the staff kitchen. Burger? Tacos? Salad buffet where I would pretend to go to eat healthy and then spend the whole time downing cornbread and whatever creamy soups they had on hand? No. This called for the real deal—I had to go get some Pho. Hot, spicy and full of yummy goodness, it was the prescription that this person was looking for.

Pho was really something quite new to me and this was one the first times I was going without the hubby there to hold my hand. So when I pulled up to the restaurant I literally had to take a breath before I went inside. What if I was going to be the only one in there and center of attention? What if I completely botched my order? You would have thought I was about to go in and pick a car that I would have to live with for the next ten years. I grabbed my book (the one I always grab even though I know I’m just going to spend my time looking at Facebook on my phone) and trudged inside.

It was quite an unassuming place and I was not, in fact, the only person in the restaurant. I found a nice corner spot away from the cold winds that would sneak in every time someone entered the place and grabbed the menu. I perused the offerings and picked what I always knew I was going to get in the first place. Two minutes in and I had cold water, a fully charged phone (with a beautiful new book to prop it up on) and my food was being prepared. I was already grabbing life by the privates and forcing it to cater to me. I felt better already.

The noodles were plentiful and the jalapenos made the soup perfectly hot and spicy. I leisurely sipped and slurped my way through lunch and found my good humor slowly returning. As I was beginning to pack up my things and pay the tab, my waiter (?), host (?), human link to all things hot and yummy (?) nervously stepped forward to tell me that I wouldn’t have to pay for my lunch because some people that had just left the restaurant had taken care of my tab. I blinked up into this earnest face and said, “Huh?” He repeated what he had said earlier and expounded that I was about the fourth person down the line that was benefiting from the original “Pay it Forwarders.” He didn’t seem comfortable with the whole scenario and kind of slunk away after telling me my good news.

I immediately tried to look outside the restaurant to see who my benefactors were, but I had done too good of a job shoving myself into the back corner. My wonder at being one of the chosen few to benefit from the kindness of strangers took me a complete mental high. This had never happened to me before. I had heard the urban legends about the cars in some Starbucks drive thru keeping the pay it forward train going for dozens of people. I had read the story of an elderly gentleman and his wife asking a neighboring table at a fancy Disney resort if the lot of eleven people was all from the same party—and then paying for their meal! I heard them and I didn’t believe them because it had never happened to me or anyone else I knew. Wait. Strike that. I think my sister got caught in a Starbucks happy train once. I will only now admit to being jealous about it.

It’s not like I hadn’t been nice to people and done things for others. I wouldn’t say that I could write a whole book about them, but it had been known to happen. But I had never paid for a stranger’s meal before. I’d given tickets that I had left over when I was leaving a carnival and gave it to family that was just about to buy their own tickets and I’ve given my extra snacks to kids at the zoo when they didn’t have anything to eat. But I’m no saint, by far. I’ve also eaten an ice cream cone that was given to my son by a passing person (at that same carnival—whom I didn’t know and I didn’t even give two craps about whether it was safe a thing to do) and have also refused to give my leftovers to a homeless person just asking for something to eat. In my defense, it was my favorite food and I knew that I was going to completely decimate it the next day…however, I forgot it in my car overnight and into the next day and I ended up throwing it away. The fact that I’m writing about it now shows you how much I felt guilt about it.

Now, admittedly, $8.40 isn’t breaking the bank for someone paying it forward but I felt like I had won the lottery and I was very happy about not having to pay for lunch. But then I began to realize that the fate of the pay it forward train was now in my hands. The waiter had been obviously perturbed by the whole event (and his responsibility to let everyone know what was up) and I didn’t want to make him more uncomfortable. I swear that this isn’t some made up bull honkey that I’m flinging at you. His feelings truly became a factor. But even more than that, I began to calculate what it would cost for me to pay it forward.

By this time there were only two other tables occupied. One held a woman that worked at the restaurant and was responsible for wrapping utensils in paper napkins. The other held a party of four. No singles. No doubles. No one just about to wander in to start their lunch. If I was going to pay it forward it was going to cost me a bit more than I was planning to spend. Did it ever occur to me to just pay for two of the people at that table of four? Uh, no. Did it occur to me that I could leave extra money at the counter to pay for the next single to sit down to eat? Not even for a second. All I thought was, “This is awesome. I’m a rock star. I can’t pay for a table of four. I’m going to kill the pay it forward.”

I’ve made all sorts of mental plans of how I can pay it forward in the future, but it hasn’t happened yet. I simply haven’t remembered to do it. Until recently. This whole story showed up in my head and wouldn’t let me sleep for the rest of the night. I know that I need to clear my conscious and continue paying it forward in some way. Now that I think about it without the shine of my own pay it forward moment beaming in my face, it feels kind of strange to continue to keep going forward by paying for someone’s meal. I mean, it’s a nice gesture and all, but I think I’m going to have to find a more “me” way of paying it forward to the next person. Maybe pay for someone’s book at the bookstore or pay for a kid’s IMAX ticket at the museum or pay for a kid to jump in the jumpy castle for ten minutes more…

Either way, I just needed to get this off of my chest and out of my mind. I’m not comfortable with the 3.8% of me that’s not completely awesome and I am determined to do something about it. I may have killed my in the moment opportunity to pay it forward, but I am determined to bring it back to life. I think. No, I know. Yes, I will. For sure. Just be warned: If strange lady wearing a neon polka dotted unicorn hat buys you or your kid a twirling flashing toy at the next Christmas parade you’ll know it was probably me.

© DRB 2017


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