I stood in line by the grocery store cart watching my mom and dad unload groceries. The conveyor belt, however, was at a standstill as the elderly lady in front of us threw up her hands in frustration. Tears started trolling down her cheeks.
“I really need all of this. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she confessed to the cashier, tears ready to roll down her cheek.
I watched her few items roll by on the belt as the cashier rung her up. Paper towels, cat food, and a couple food items.
My dad pushed forward to talk to the woman discreetly.
“How much are you short?” he asked her.
“Seven dollars,” she said through tears.
Maybe it was because that’s exactly how old I was at the time, or maybe it was just that it was a simple moment that became a big moment in my life. I’ve never forgotten, though, the amount or the look of relief on the lady’s face when my dad opened his wallet and handed over the seven dollars she needed.
After profuse thank-yous, the elderly woman was on her way with the few items she needed to get by that week. At seven, though, I didn’t understand the momentousness of what my dad did until we got in the car.
“Dad, why didn’t you just pay for her entire order?” I’d asked as naïve children sometimes do.
He looked in the rearview mirror at me, shrugging. “Because I didn’t have enough to pay for it all, but I could give her the seven she needed.”
That moment was a small moment, but to me, it was everything. At thirty-two, I still think about that small gesture, that sad lady, and how my dad used seven dollars to make her week a little brighter. More than that, as I aged, I came to realize something I didn’t understand then.
Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money. It wasn’t always easy for my parents to make ends meet. That seven dollars he passed over to that lady without a second thought were probably some of the last dollars he had for the week. My dad gave them up anyway, not thinking for a second about what it would mean for his own wallet or week.
When we’re young, we learn things without even understanding. That day, my dad taught me an important lesson. You don’t have to be a millionaire to make a difference. It isn’t always about starting a charity or conducting a huge fundraiser. Sometimes, it just takes selflessness and seven dollars.
My dad is a humble man. He would never tell this story willingly. He would never tell of all the times since then that he’s done a similar thing. Just last week, in fact, he handed over a twenty to cover someone’s bill at the store when their card wasn’t working.
Our world is a dark place, and especially in 2020, it can feel like nothing is going right. It can be easy to lose faith in humanity. But in a dark, harsh world, I hope my dad’s story can remind us all that we can all change the world for someone in small ways.
Whether you have seven minutes or seven cents or seven dollars, there are small ways you can make a big difference, even if it is just for one person. My dad taught my seven-year-old self that very lesson on a random day at the grocery store, and it’s something that has stuck with me ever since.