THERE'S ALWAYS A SILVER LINING SOMEWHERE: how paying it forward works even when your coffee spills & your car crashes
So something rather wonderful happened the other day. I had spent the morning running hither and yon to meetings and the grocery store and the pharmacy and the dry cleaners and the post office – all the tasks we regular folks with no budget for personal assistants must tackle after being out of town for two weeks – when I found myself yawning.
Yet, as one yawn died and another, larger, MGM lion of a yawn replaced it, I happened to glance to the right…
And, I swear, the skies glittered and the clouds parted and the sun smiled. I may even have heard angels singing.
I only know that, suddenly, my heart was as light and bright as the sun streaming in through my windshield because, lo and behold, abracadabra, right when I needed it, there it was. Starbucks!
Better yet, my sweet little considerate C250 had already figured out that a tall, double, extra hot, skinny Caramel Macchiato was just the jolt my soul and caffeine deprived nervous system craved. We pulled into a parking spot and, as I clambered out, I patted the car on its hood, much as you’d pat a horse on its nose. Good boy.
Inside, my luck held. The line was not too long and, better yet, it was moving. I placed my order…
The barrista motioned toward the place where you pick up drinks.
“I need to pay,” I kindly reminded her.
“No, you’re done,” the barrista replied.
I shook my head. “No, I need to pay.”
“No. You don’t.”
My mama raised me to be polite, but this gal’s denseness was becoming nettlesome.
“I truly don’t mean to argue with you,” I assured her, “but I KNOW I haven’t paid you yet.” Then, just to make sure she got what I was getting at, I reached into my purse and waved my unopened wallet in front of her register.
The barrista laughed then pointed toward a man in a white t-shirt a few yards away. He couldn’t have been more than 25, max. “No, HE paid. He paid for everyone.”
I joined the young man at the drink-pick up place. “You bought my drink?” I asked him. Sans caffeine, I can be slow.
The young man smiled. “Yeah.”
“Well, thank you,” I stuttered. “I don’t know what to say.”
My benefactor shrugged. “It’s no big deal.”
“Are you kidding?” I said. “It’s a very big deal. This is extraordinarily generous of you.”
“Yes, thank you,” the woman behind me chimed in. “Thank you so much.”
Sort of sheepishly the young man waved our accolades aside.
“I’ll pay this forward, I want you to know that,” I told him.
It turned out that this was exactly what the young man was doing. Once upon a time, he had stood in my shoes at a Starbucks... “I just want to keep it going,” he concluded.
“Well, it will,” I replied. “I won’t break the chain, I promise.”
“Double tall …!” the barrista called out.
I reached for my drink with one hand and, with my other, for one of those green plug thingys that Starbucks provides and I wish other coffee establishments would pilfer. Then I turned, one last time, toward my benefactor. “Thank you ag—“
My cup slipped. I grabbed for it, to steady it, but it was too late. The lid flew off.
Appalled, I watched as a Niagara Falls of coffee, milk and syrup that seemed to last forever gushed to the floor.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” I cried.
The barrista called for a mop up. The young man grabbed napkins.
“Did you burn yourself?” the woman next to me asked.
“Just my pride,” I answered as I got to work with a handful of napkins of my own. God, it’s embarrassing to be a klutz.
“This happens all the time,” the Starbucks guy with a mop reassured me. “Don’t worry about it.”
“You’re the first today, though,” added the gal who had taken my order.
Which made me laugh.
* * *
I wasn’t laughing 8 hours later, however.
I had just backed out of a parking space smack into someone else.
The woman behind the wheel rolled down her window as, cursing my idiocy under my breath, I flew out of my car to stand contritely beside hers. “Didn’t you see me?”
“No,” I sighed. “I didn’t. I’m sorry.”
I shot a dark look sidewise at C250. I’m so trading you in for a model that’ll WARN me.
The woman, meanwhile, was motioning frantically at a man in a nearby car. Eventually he got the message, and his door opened, and a leg emerged. He seemed to take forever walking toward us...
“I’m so sorry,” I called once he was within earshot. “I didn’t see her.”
Together, we surveyed the wreckage. The woman’s car was scraped along the side and, in one spot, I noted with a sick, sinking feeling, was more than likely dented. Ka-chink, ka-chink. $1000…$2000, all from a mishap at ½ mph. Damage to my car was negligible.
Couldn’t you at least have reversed this? I fussed at C250.
The couple took my information, and I apologized about 10 trillion more times.
“It’s okay,” said the man.
I got the feeling he felt kind of sorry for me, but it wasn’t okay, what had happened, and both of us knew it. Then he introduced himself…and, although you would expect that this one little critical fact would have burned itself into my psyche like a branding iron into a sheep, it didn’t. I’ve forgotten his name.
“And this,” he added, “is Merced.”
“Hello, Merced, “ I said to the woman whose car I had hit. “I so wish we could have met under different circumstances.”
* * *
I looked out the back window of my car for a good five minutes before I found the courage to press on the gas, and even then I hesitated. Merced and the man were still there, watching me, and eventually the man caught on that I was shell shocked and motioned me backward, mouthing something like, “All clear. You’re good.”
Merced just looked ticked. She hadn’t stopped looking ticked the whole time.
You think YOU’RE screwed, I thought glumly.
My pity party lasted the entire ride home, through two loads of laundry, phone calls to my mother, a good friend, and my husband (all supportive), a glass of wine (okay, two and a half glasses), and a bout of Facebooking.
I had posted earlier about the unexpected freebie at Starbucks, ending with my mortification over the spilled macchiato. Yet I’m a gal who can see “signs” in virtually anything – whether it’s a contrail in the sky, a grey hair in my part, a ladder along my pantyhose, a shadow against the wall, or a caterpillar on the pavement. So, of course, it didn’t take me long to find a “sign” in that macchiato.
“Don't cry over spilled macchiatos,” I had typed ever so blithely. “Since when are ANY of us perfect? Get over yourself.”
Now, post-accident, I saw that, over the course of the day, the post had garnered a few likes and a comment. All the invitation I needed to begin typing. To whine to one and all about the unfair lousy crappy ending to a day that had begun so promisingly. Stupid me. Stupid “signs.”
But, then, a few words in, I saw something…
I saw something as clearly as I had seen that Starbucks sign in the strip mall that morning.
I saw that perhaps I had written WHAT I had written not for others but for myself.
Don’t cry over spilled macchiatos.
Don’t cry over Merced’s dented door.
What’s done is done.
And, for goodness sake, cut the theatrics, drama mama. It could be a whole lot worse. As people often say in these instances, “Well, no one was hurt. No one DIED.”
And, THEN, I remembered an 18 karat gold nugget of wisdom I had read in this wonderful little book called “Happiness Is A Serious Problem” by radio host Dennis Prager. There, Dennis recounted how a friend of his had had a bit of a challenging (ie, miserable) day – something to do with HIS car, too, if I remember correctly. Yet despite the blown out tire or whatever it was that led to him missing a speaking engagement, which led to him losing out on a big, fat guest-speaker fee, his friend had remained a little buddha of serenity.
“What’s your secret?” asked Dennis.
I am paraphrasing here. But, bottom line, his friend’s answer was this:
1. All of us are due to have some aggravating, aggrieving, abysmal days. No one is immune; we each have our allotment.
2. On this particular day, one of his aggravating, aggrieving, abysmal allotments came due.
3. And he had survived, and it was okay.
4. Actually it was more than okay. There was, now, one less aggravating, aggrieving, abysmal allotment remaining on his life’s list.
Yes, I hit Merced’s car. And, while no one in their right mind welcomes an accident, I do welcome the blessing I found in confronting the starring role I played in scraping the side of her Honda. For, only in confronting it, writing about it, attempting to find one of my “signs” in it did I figure out that my meeting with Merced was a session at the Gym of Life.
My meeting with Merced was a workout that made me sweat. But, like all good workouts, it also made me stronger for the heavy lifting that may well lie ahead, when some truly Triple A bum break – one that will require a lot more effort, strength, faith and hope to surmount than it takes to get over being stupid and (gulp) once again the kind of driver who really ought to live somewhere like NYC, where there are these things called subways and cabs – careens straight at me.
And don’t tell me it’s a coincidence that Merced’s name was MERCED. What does Merced mean?
Look it up.