Pay it forward, one smile at a time

Maria Nann

It was my last day at Hallmark, and my co-workers and I were joking around, laughing and having a good time. We wanted it to be a laid-back, fun night.

Around an hour before closing, a modestly dressed woman came to the counter and handed me a single card. She was quiet in answering when I asked if she had found everything all right, and I watched as she slowly counted out three rumpled dollar bills and 18 pennies.

Her oversized, cream-colored T-shirt hung loosely on her, coupled with a pair of too-large jeans adorned with patches of dirt. Her movements were slow and deliberate. Her jewelry was modest – an old, tattered watch, a water-stained bracelet. A small diamond sparkled from her left hand as she handed over the money, speaking in a voice barely above a whisper as she timidly asked me to recount what she had handed me to make sure it was correct.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw her drop her gaze to the floor as I counted the pennies, and I began thinking of nice things to say to her. I could comment on the weather, I thought, or ask how her day was going. Ultimately, I wanted to compliment her on her diamond ring, the nicest piece of jewelry she wore.

But instead, I informed her with a smile that her change was correct before passing along her receipt.

As she quietly thanked me and avoided eye contact, I saw a sadness in her eyes, and I waited to hear something nice come out of my mouth.

Instead, I watched in silence as she slowly made her way out of the store. As the door closed behind her, my co-worker turned to me and said something about a lack of self-confidence in some women. Briefly, I nodded and turned, pretending to busy myself with dusting. But I was infuriated with myself.

I don’t know this woman’s story. I don’t know where she comes from or who gave her that ring. But I do know that I had an opportunity to try to make her day a little brighter.

So why didn’t I?

Years ago, it used to be that you walked down the street and greeted everyone you passed with a friendly “hello” or a kind smile. Now, you walk down the street and have to jump out of the way of bikers glaring down at anyone they almost run over as a result of their reckless riding.

Something has died in America, maybe the world. I don’t know what it is, but with it died the joy of spontaneous greetings and the sparkle in people’s eyes when offered even the simplest of compliments. And for the woman at Hallmark, I’d like to try to bring it back.

There is something sad about a woman with low self-esteem or small amounts of self-confidence. And although we may not realize it at the time, even the simplest of gestures can make all the difference in someone’s day.

So whether it’s giving someone a few kind words or flashing a kind smile when walking down the street, take a moment to try to brighten someone’s day.

It’s time well spent.

Contact principal reporter Maria Nann at [email protected].