A few weeks ago, I ran into the WalMart near my office to pick up a few things, I don't even remember what.
While I was walking through the produce section, an older gentleman came up to me and asked me if he could have a minute or two of my time. Right away I was taken aback. I immediately was thinking of reasons to flee. For one, I was on my lunch hour, I was already short on time, and I knew that I had to wait in line to check out. And two, I just didn't feel like being talked to about having my soul saved or anything remotely like that. But I'm a sucker for a kind older person, and this guy looked harmless, so I stopped and actually made some eye contact with him. That's when he gave me a piece of candy, a watermelon Jolly Rancher and asked me if he could have a minute of my time.
As it turns out, his name was Herbert. Herbert told me that he was 89 years old and several times a week, he grabs a bunch of candy, leaves his home, and heads to the WalMart to basically be nice to people.
He told me that four years ago, his beloved wife of sixty five years passed away from cancer. When it was pretty clear that she wasn't going to be recovering, he was so worried about her. But while he was busy worrying about her, she was more worried about him. She was so afraid that after she was gone, Herbert would sit alone at home and become reclusive and give up his will to keep on living. The day before she died, she told him of her fears. He told me that conversation literally saved his life as she was dying. That was when he made a promise to her that once she was gone, he wouldn't sit at home and "get old, feel sorry for himself, and give up". And so from that day forward, he has grabbed his candy every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and headed to WalMart to "meet nice people and try to pass along a piece of candy and a smile."
It was such a pleasure to just chat with him for a few minutes. I no longer cared if I was a few minutes late getting back to my desk. It was so obvious how much he loved and missed his wife, and how much joy he got by getting out of the house and meeting people. He told me that he's met all sorts of people...soldiers that fought in Iraq, business people, cute little kids, school teachers, and even a circus clown.
He said that people have always been kind to him. I was happy to hear that, because people aren't always nice, that's for sure.
One day he was in line and talking to a young couple in front of him who were checking out their groceries. When they had gone and it was his turn to pay for his things, the couple that he had talked to had made arrangements to pay for all of his items. To me, that's what the "pay it forward" thing is all about.
Herbert certainly made my day that day, right there in front of the broccoli, and all it took was a few kind words and a Jolly Rancher. In the promise that he made to his wife, he not only keeps himself living, but reminds everyday people in the Walmart about the power of a kind word.
I was honored that Herbert not only picked me to talk to, but let me take his picture that day. I told him that I wanted to take his picture so that I could share his story with my friends and family. Here he is: