SHE was sitting three stools down from me at the counter. I had watched her meander in with a cane a few minutes earlier. She appeared to be in her late 60’s and was missing some front teeth. Her camouflage jacket and pants were worn and a bit dirty, and her stringy, shoulder-length hair stuck out below a brown toboggan.
I was quite enjoying my visit to a piece of Americana called Harry’s Café. I was in the small town of Pittsburg, Kansas for a writers’ conference and this was my third meal at the quaint restaurant on North Broadway. I ordered a salad from the menu that boasted the title “Our Famous American Bowl.” And my eyes and stomach anticipated a piece of banana cream pie with three-inch meringue from the glass display case on the wall.
SHE ordered a cheeseburger with onion rings. She ate quickly, then asked for three oatmeal raisin cookies to go. The server seemed to know her.
When the server came to refill my Diet Pepsi, I whispered, “I’d like to buy that lady’s supper. Can you put her food on my bill, but don’t tell her who paid for it?” The server smiled and nodded yes.
I finished my salad and checked Facebook on my phone while I waited on the pie. SHE made her way to the register; I watched out of the corner of my eye.
“You don’t owe us anything, Bonnie,” the server stated with a grin.
“What do you mean?” Bonnie asked.
“Someone already paid for your food,” the server explained.
Bonnie stiffened and yelled, “I don’t want anybody to pay for my food!”
I slid down in my stool and pretended to play on Facebook. The server tried to calm her. “It’s ok, Bonnie. Someone is just paying it forward.”
“No!” Bonnie screamed. “Nobody is going to pay for my food!”
“Settle down, Bonnie!” the server exclaimed. “You can pay for somebody else’s food the next time.”
Bonnie huffed loudly and stormed out the door. The server stood motionless for a few seconds, then walked slowly to the pie case to retrieve my banana cream pie. As she silently set it in front of me, we both made a face.
I figure the odds of a response like that are one in one hundred thousand. So don’t let my experience discourage you from paying it forward.
“Master, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me” (Matthew 25:37-40 MSG).