Thirty Cents Worth

Thirty Cents Worth

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

Thirty Cents Worth

Things do not pass for what they are, but for what they seem. Most things are judged by their jackets.

~Baltasar Gracián

Whispering voices and laughter fill the hallways of my school as I walk with my friend toward our next class. I resist the impulse to become yet another person using these few moments to judge others in order to make myself feel better. I repeat to myself, Thirty cents, as I continue to walk in silence, something I rarely do. My friend digs her elbow into my side and grumbles, “That’s just gross. Why would anyone want blue hair? That’s so nasty!” I think before my tongue springs into action. Ordinarily, I would just give the expected giggle and nod — but for some reason, I hesitate.

My thoughts turn back to the previous Sunday afternoon. After flying through the house grabbing and tossing things into my soccer bag, I discovered that I was out of Blister-Block Band-Aids, an essential for the next day’s game. After some persuasion, I coaxed my mom into taking me to Walgreen’s. She dropped me off and assured me she’d be right back. I rushed inside and snatched the goods.

There was a line at the register, as usual, and I waited my turn. I slowed down for a minute and examined the man in front of me. I was appalled.

He was old and reeked of gasoline and cigarettes. His hair was unkempt and reached below his shoulders. He wore a red vest matted in dust and jeans faded beyond recognition. His blue eyes were glassy and tired, and his dark mahogany face was etched with deep wrinkles carved by hard times.

He reached the counter and greeted the saleswoman with a nod. She averted her eyes as he pointed to the cigarettes behind the counter. She grabbed the carton he was pointing to and quickly rang him up. He grabbed the plastic bag and slowly ambled away.

I gave her four one-dollar bills and the Band-Aids as she nodded in agreement with my disgust. “Sorry,” she said. “You’re thirty cents short.”

“Oh, no… I don’t have thirty cents! My mom isn’t here… She’ll be right back. Can I run out to the car real quick?” As I was pleading my case, the cashier was visibly annoyed by the delay I was causing. I could feel the blood rush to my face as the people behind me in line started looking at each other with the same judgmental eyes I had just shared with the cashier. Just as I was about to run out of the store without my Band-Aids, I got a strong whiff of cigarettes and gasoline.

A dirty hand with yellow fingernails placed four nickels and a dime on the counter. I was awestruck and at a loss for words. I quickly offered to pay him back.

“That’s okay. It’s only thirty cents,” he said with a warm smile and a wink. The man I had just judged as a foul creature had done something amazingly kind.

Now when I start to judge somebody based on their looks, I stop and repeat “thirty cents” to myself as a reminder to look beyond appearances. When I do that, I see beauty in everyone I meet.

~Trish E. Calvarese

More stories from our partners