THE BLOG

How to Get a Big Bang for Your Charitable Buck

12/23/2014 09:50 EST | Updated 02/22/2015 05:59 EST

I'm all lit up right now, and I just have to share.

No, it's not about Christmas cocktails (I wish), or standing too close to the outlet that houses the electrical cord on my twinkly little Christmas tree. It has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I played well in a golf match yesterday, or that the stock market recovered nicely at the end of the week, just in time for Christmas.

Nope, I'm all lit up because I engaged in a very inexpensive, but wildly uplifting random act of kindness today, while I was at the grocery store, replenishing my supply of honey crisp apples.

Allow me to set the stage for you: I am a semi-retired writer who spends winters in Palm Springs, playing golf and enjoying the many and wondrous visits I get from my very large, closely knit, mostly golfing family. I am mother to three interesting adult children, and grandmother to one adorable grandson. I have a very patient and affectionate husband, a well behaved black lab (ok, that's a stretch), and both my parents and my maternal grandmother are still alive and well. One of them is 100.

I am also blessed with robust health, good friends, and mostly controllable vices. I am on excellent terms with my first two husbands, and one even manages my investment account. I'm not a rich woman by any stretch of the imagination, but happily I have moderate tastes and I want for very little.

All of which makes the small random act of kindness I performed today really easy.

As I mentioned earlier, I was standing in the Express line at my local grocery store getting ready to pay for my apples. There was an elderly lady in front of me, having difficulty paying for her groceries. She was clearly struggling with whatever card had just been rejected by the electronic payment terminal at the check out, and she was confused and embarrassed. The cashier was trying to be helpful, but they tried several times to get the card to work, without success.

The old doll reminded me of my Granny, a woman I adored. (Well, except for that one time when she reported finding my panties under the living room chesterfield to my parents when they were away in Hawaii and she was holding down the fort. I was 16 at the time, and eventually forgave her.) My Granny died some 30 years ago, and she would have been equally confused by the way we pay for things today, and just as mortified at holding anyone up.

I leaned over the old gal in front of me to see if I could help. The cashier asked her if she would like her to return her groceries to the shelf, and she just looked stunned. I said: "I've got this Ma'am, don't worry."

Both the cashier and the shocked senior looked at me in disbelief as I ran my American Express card through the machine. The amount owing was $43.57; peanuts, really, and it was all done before anyone could stop me.

"I need your name so I can pay you back", the old gal stammered, flustered. I refused to give it to her, requesting a hug instead, which she gave me, teary and still stunned. "Merry Christmas", I said, feeling a tremendous rush of gratitude for being able to help. I was almost in tears myself, which I'm relieved I was able to suppress as that would have been embarrassing for everyone.

As the old doll shuffled outside still shaking her head, I paid for my own groceries, feeling absolutely elated. The cashier thanked me, touching me on the arm, and the young guy behind me gave me a nod. For the rest of the afternoon, I smiled and smiled and smiled.

And I do believe that for a short time, anyway, my random act of kindness was repaid me. Get this: at a packed Costco a little later I was tapped on the shoulder by a cashier who was just opening his till, and I floated through the check out process like a sleek schooner on a quiet sea. That never happens to me.

And, when I finally got home, there was a Fedex package waiting for me from my old friend Annie from Saskatoon. As I tore it open, I was thrilled to find two large packages of Maynard's Wine Gums (the originals), which although they were a snick late, were Annie's gift to me for my birthday. The cost of shipping cost twice as much as the wine gums, but that's the kind of friend Annie is.

I still have Christmas cheques to write, as this is the time of year I make my annual charitable donations. But it's highly unlikely that I'll get nearly as much bang for my buck as I did for that $43.57. I should be writing the old gal in the grocery store a thank you letter for giving me the opportunity to help in a hands on way. What a gift!