I had just moved to America from Israel (a story in its own right, but not for now...), and having to put together an apartment from scratch, I was tipped off to Costco as a good place to load up on household basics.
So after dropping off the kids at camp, between a thousand errands, I raced into Costco, looked around, and decided it was worth becoming a member.
Later I came back to Costco, started shopping, but had to cut it short to pick up the kids from camp. The store let me put my cart to the side.
For the third time that day, after the kids were in bed and my husband was at home, I returned to Costco, loaded up a second cart full of stuff, and proceeded to make my way to checkout.
Costco is very particular about what forms of payment they accept. I didn't have that much cash, our checks had not yet arrived in the mail, we don't have American Express, but, ah-hah, I did have my debit card on me.
Three swipes, but no go. My debit card, for some reason, was not accepted.
Two carts, three visits to this gargantuan store in one day, hours of my time wasted.
A manager was called over. He made a red X on my receipt, and rolled my carts away. I stood, blinking. Two carts, three visits to this gargantuan store in one day, hours of my time wasted.
Then I heard a voice.
"I'll pay for you," a woman called.
I looked over. A woman in the next line, an African American woman, was talking to me.
"I'll pay for you," she repeated. "But I'm trusting that you're going to pay me back!"
"Of course!" I said, making my way to her.
"I just saw the look on your face," she said. "And I could totally see something like that happening to me. But I'm trusting you," she said again.
The manager brought my receipt. The information was quickly scanned. My Costco angel swiped her American Express card, and charged $440.71 for my things. We exchanged addresses and phone numbers, and agreed to meet in two days so I could pay her back. I hugged her in the store. I told her she should be blessed with everything good that she wants, and that she should be the recipient of such acts of kindness.
"I'm sure you do good things for people, too," she said. "I like to do an act of kindness when I can."
Pushing two huge carts and dazed from the events, I made my way, into the parking lot and proceeded to forget where I parked my car. My skirt got caught in the wheels of the cart and I had to tear the bottom of my skirt to get untangled. I'm not usually this much of a space cadet, but I was really blown away.
Two days later, my Costco angel, Jacquie, came by the house. "My husband," she said, "is a cynic. He said I shouldn't have done it, that people show up to stores and do that just so people like me can fall for it! But I saw the look on your face..."
I gave Jacquie the money as my children looked on, while telling them about the amazing act of kindness my new friend Jacquie had done for me.
It's got to be the most important lesson in life. We think that we get ahead by taking and acquiring. But the best way to expand our world is by giving.
The ironic thing about stocking up on so much stuff is that it often leaves me with an empty feeling. After spending all that money, I yearn to connect with something more lasting, less perishable, more eternal. With enough toilet paper, paper towels, paper goods, peanut butter and aluminum foil to last us for months, I yearn to get back to the world of people.
"Now I know how we make a new friend," my five-year-old said later. "We do a kindness for somebody."