“Paying it Forward . . . or Not,” column for Feb. 4, 2014

We make the world a better place by being better people _ kinder, gentler, slow to judge, quick to offer grace.

I believe that. But some days, it’s easier said than done.

Last week, I stopped at the market to pick up a few things. I was in a rush to get home and start dinner. Yes, that’s a lame excuse, but it’s all I’ve got.

I grabbed what I needed and dashed to the check-out stand. Lines were long, except at the 15-items-or-less counter, where only one customer was ahead of me: A man with just one item, a small jar of some kind of salve. He slammed it on the counter.

“I bought this yesterday,” he told her, “and didn’t get points. I want you to give me the points.”

I hate points. I’m never sure how to use them. Apparently, if you save them up, you can get 10 cents off a gallon of gas under a full moon at a Speedy Mart 40 miles across town, if your membership card will scan at the pump, which mine will not.

I hate those cards. I can never find them when I need them. Then I have to get dirty looks for holding up the line while I paw through my purse for something that will give me a discount that everybody ought to get anyway.

But back to the man and his points. The clerk smiled and said, “Sorry, sir, you need to take that to customer service.”

“No,” he said. “You do it.”

So she spent five minutes punching in numbers to refund, and then re-ring, the sale. Meanwhile, the man ranted a blue streak on his cell phone to some poor soul (his wife?) about the audacity of the store, the ineptitude of its employees and the general unfairness of life.

“Here you go, sir,” the clerk said. “I gave you the points.”

He studied the receipt.”I had more points before. What did you do with them?”

I started to offer him all the points that I never use, but a manager showed up to escort him to customer service.

When I told the clerk I admired her graciousness, she laughed. “Goes with the job,” she said.

Driving home, I thought about her answer. It made me wonder. Is it really our “job” to offer grace to someone who is being so completely ungracious?

I’ve been asking myself that question for days now, and the answer keeps coming up “yes.” Not because, like the clerk, I get paid to be gracious. But because grace is a gift I’ve been given countless times with just one condition: That I give it back.

I have no idea why the point man behaved as he did. I know nothing about him or what was going on his life.

Years ago, when my first husband was battling cancer, I lost patience for lots of stuff. The December before he died, a friend came to stay with him so I could do some Christmas shopping. I promised to hurry back.

In line at Macy’s, I heard a woman complaining that she always had to buy her own gifts because her husband never gave her anything she liked. I bit my lip so hard I tasted blood. Then a man cut in line to ask the clerk a question and I lost it. I heard myself yell, “Hey, buddy! There’s a line here!”

Every head in the store turned to stare at me. I was mortified. I wanted to crawl under the counter and hide. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, I burst into tears. And the woman who’d complained about her husband said, “It’s OK, honey,” and handed me a tissue.

No one that day could have known why I behaved as I did. I certainly didn’t. But somehow it seemed they agreed, God bless them, to give me a little break.

I wish I’d done the same for the man who wanted his points. I wish I hadn’t been quite so quick to judge him.

Everybody needs a break once in a while. We don’t have to know the reasons. We just have to remember that sooner or later, it will be our turn, yours or mine, to need a little grace.

Not to worry. It will probably be me.


  1. Another wonderful story and some truth about grace we all can use… and give. I can relate.

    I’ve needed grace many times standing in the pharmacy lines, while waiting on my husband’s prescriptions during his battles with cancer.

    Also, I’ve learned to be a little more patient now with others, who for seeming no reason go off on a rant while waiting. We all need grace, whether we deserve it or not.

    And always thankful for the Grace that God has given us all.

  2. Veronique Schreurs says

    Hi Sharon, I want to thank you for your column “everyone – especially me – needs a little grace”. After reading, I had planned to practice this and something happened the next day where grace was majorly called for!
    Thank you for planting the seed!

  3. Kate Sciacca says

    Loved this one…. Reminded me of a verse from Marie Bellet’s song “It’s The Little Things” –
    ” I was standing in the checkout, I was really pressed for time…
    When some lady with her coupons was holding up the line…
    And she might have saved a dollar but I nearly lost my mind….
    Just standing in the checkout… Really pressed for time!”

  4. Mrs. Randal: I am another of you many readers, an old man almost 74 years of age. I look forward to reading your column first thing in the morning when I retrieve my paper from the roadside paper box. I love your style of writing and the everyday things that we all experience from time to time. God bless….Rod Terry, Anderson, SC

  5. Sharon~I read this article this morning & shared it on my Facebook status. It really touched my heart. Just a few minutes ago, I read this poem & immediately thought of what you had just written. You may have read it before…

    When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.
    Later, when the nurses were going through his meagre possessions, They found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.
    One nurse took her copy to Melbourne. The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appearing in magazines for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem. And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem winging across the Internet.


    What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
    What are you thinking .. . when you’re looking at me?
    A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
    Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
    Who dribbles his food .. . … . . and makes no reply.
    When you say in a loud voice . .’I do wish you’d try!’
    Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
    And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
    Who, resisting or not . . . … lets you do as you will,
    With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
    Is that what you’re thinking?. .Is that what you see?
    Then open your eyes, nurse .you’re not looking at me.
    I’ll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
    As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
    I’m a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
    Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
    A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
    Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he’ll meet.
    A groom soon at Twenty . . . ..my heart gives a leap.
    Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
    At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
    Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
    A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
    Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
    At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
    But my woman is beside me . . to see I don’t mourn.
    At Fifty, once more, .. …Babies play ’round my knee,
    Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
    Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
    I look at the future … . . . . I shudder with dread.
    For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
    And I think of the years . . . And the love that I’ve known.
    I’m now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
    It’s jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
    The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigour, depart.
    There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
    But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
    And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
    I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
    And I’m loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
    I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
    And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
    So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
    Not a cranky old man .
    Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. …. . ME!!

    Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within … We will all, one day, be there, too!

  6. Another winner from the most gracious person I know, and I know a lot of people.

    As you always say, Grace and Peace.


  7. Wow, so glad to see this post. Beautifully written! I’m sitting here balling my eyes out. This really hits a nerve. So very true. You don’t ever know what that other person is facing or has faced. We need to give each other more breaks.

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