What if?

By: Patricia Murphy

Some time ago, I was third in line at a local store when a young man checking out, who was about 30 or so, picked up a small box of Godiva chocolates and set it down for purchase. There was an older lady between us who watched this with interest, and he smiled at her in a slightly embarrassed, self-conscious kind of way, then went back to his transaction. As he was finishing up, he seemed to impulsively grab another of the little two-piece packages, and then unexpectedly handed it to the woman on his way out of the store.

“Enjoy,” he said simply, before he disappeared.

Speechless, the woman stared at that little gold box like it was actual treasure. And for the first time I noticed her weariness, the sadness around her eyes, the slouch that said her life was hard in any of the myriad ways life is hard, and that few had ever bought her chocolate just to say ‘enjoy’. She looked from the cashier to me, disbelief on her face, and whispered ‘Thank you,’ almost reverently to the vacant space where seconds before the man had been.

During the early months of the pandemic, when I thought baking was the solution to all my family’s problems (it sadly wasn’t), I thought again of that young man and that quiet exchange in our neighborhood store. And as I was assembling the ingredients to a banana bread, I wondered, what if I made a couple of extra to give away to people who may be alone, or sad or scared right now? I reached out to my friend Jenny and Sonia from my favorite local gift shop, Splurge, and soon we had an impromptu little network of small packages appearing at the doors of unsuspecting neighbors. Shortly after, as Jenny was making dinner for her family, she wondered, what if I made a couple of extra trays of ziti, which have since become biweekly dinners we now give to a few families around town who can use some extra hands.

This holiday we’re contemplating more what ifs – what if we could brighten the season for children and drive business for local shop’s at the same time? What if we could give a few of our elderly neighbors a small gesture so they knew someone was thinking of them? What if for every gift we bought our kids, we bought one for a child an emergency worker? What if we added a little something at check out and turned around and handed it to the person behind us? What if?

It’s easy to think the problems of the world are so big that there’s nothing any of us can individually do to confront them. It’s easy to be discouraged, to retreat and lament the often rough meanness of our age. But what if we each decided that every day presented us with tiny opportunities to do something for someone else, to brighten a moment, an hour, perhaps even change the outlook of people we may never know? What if we could inspire others by small acts that may seem inconsequential at the time yet ultimately – maybe without us even knowing it – somehow create a cascading momentum of kindness that ripples out, imbued with the power of a simple, transforming intention: in Joy. A $4 two piece box of Godiva. What if?