Although we go about our daily tasks at what seems to be our own initiative and will, our steps are “guided” for a spiritual and loftier purpose. We end up in a specific place so that we will have the opportunity to do what needs to be done from a divine perspective.
God leads us to the location where our mission lies; we don’t always need to find it. He orchestrates the circumstances to ensure that we have the position and tools to fulfill it. The challenge is to seize the moment. When we find ourselves in a specific place and situation, that speaks to our abilities and calls for our involvement, it is the greatest indication that there is something for us to accomplish there.
The most unforeseeable and unexpected events are the ones that very often have the greatest meaning. They are the directional signals for our souls. —Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Yesterday I drove to the grocery store in the small town I live in to pick up a few things. I had a short list, and there wasn’t anything I desperately needed, but for whatever reason I decided to make the trip anyway. The store is small, only about 8 aisles in all, with a small deli and no fish counter. Even so, it carries a nice selection of organic and gluten-free options, which I appreciate.
While pushing my cart up and down the aisles to find the things I needed, I encountered an elderly couple doing their shopping together. I had never seen them in the store before, even though I shop there frequently. The husband was small, thin as a rail, and somewhat hunched, perhaps from osteoporosis. He was pulling items off the shelves while his wife pushed the cart. As often happens in small grocery stores, we crossed paths a couple more times. The aisles are narrow, with barely enough room for two carts to pass each other, and at one point I think my cart was blocking theirs and the wife apologized for being in my way. I told her she wasn’t and had nothing to be sorry for.
A few minutes later, I found myself behind them at the register (the only one open at the time), with me arriving just as the cashier was finishing ringing up their total. The husband, who paid with his debit card, acted very surprised when the cashier told him there wasn’t enough money on the card to cover their purchases. Both he and his wife kept saying, “That can’t be right; can you run it again.” He did, but the outcome was the same, and so the husband, understandably distraught, opened his wallet and started pulling out one-dollar bills and placing them on the counter. When it looked as though he still might not have enough, I looked in my wallet and found a folded five-dollar bill. I handed it to him, saying, “Here, will this help?” He looked up, astonished, and his wife said something like, “Oh my! How generous of you.” When his wallet was emptied, the cashier counted all the cash and told the couple they were still $5.50 short. Meanwhile, the line behind us had grown by three more customers. Hoping to ease the couple’s pain and embarrassment, I unceremoniously pulled out my credit card, stuck it in the machine, and told the cashier to put the rest of it on my card. Overcome with emotion, the couple thanked me profusely and said “Oh, we must pay you back!” to which I replied, “No. Please. Don’t worry about it. Just pay it forward; that’s how it works.”
As I wheeled my cart out of the store, I scanned the parking lot for the elderly couple, hoping to tell them how they had made my day, but they were nowhere to be seen. As I pulled out of the lot, I could not stop smiling. My encounter at the store had filled me with gratitude and an almost indescribable joy. How fortunate I was to have been in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to do a small favor for two perfect strangers. All the way home I marveled at the irony of our exchange. They thought I had given them something, when it was really I who had received the greatest gift.