70: Circle of Compassion

70: Circle of Compassion

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Circle of Compassion

Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty.

~Albert Einstein

After a long hot day, I eagerly welcomed the setting sun. The long shadows falling across the scorching pavement signaled the beginning of the cooling for the night. On my way to meet friends, I pulled into a busy neighbor-hood gas station to fill the tank of my truck. As I pumped my gas, I watched the people around me. Some looked like they were on their way home from work while others appeared to be heading out for the evening. The click of the pump shutting off brought my attention back to my task. I put the gas nozzle back and closed my gas cap. I headed into the mini-mart to pay for my gas.

As I waited in line, I overheard bits of the conversation between the young woman in front of me and the cashier. The young woman had written a check for the gas she had already pumped. The cashier’s face was pinched, her jaw set and her lips pursed as she listened to the young woman’s explanation.

“I can’t accept this check,” the cashier said tersely. “The name you signed doesn’t match the name printed on the check. Your ID doesn’t match the name printed on the check either.”

I didn’t clearly hear the young woman’s reply, but I heard the pleading tone in her voice. The cashier repeated she could not accept the lady’s check as payment. The young woman said she had no cash, no credit card, just the check. As the cashier questioned her about whom the check belonged to, the tension mounted. The cashier told the young woman she was going to call the manager and then turned to wait on me.

The scene I had just witnessed left me feeling uncomfortable. I paid for my gas and started to turn away. A line had now formed behind me. One customer shifted his weight, another fumbled with his purchase. They were becoming a bit annoyed with waiting. But I couldn’t help myself.

I turned back to the cashier. “How much does she owe?”

There was silence from the lady behind the counter. It was one of those moments when the stillness screams out loud. The cashier stood with her eyes boring into me. I turned and looked at the young woman’s face. I looked into her eyes and I saw something there, maybe fear, maybe desperation. Her need was so strong it was almost tangible. I didn’t know if she was a struggling single mother or even if the check was stolen. But I could clearly see she needed help and I couldn’t just stand there and do nothing. I said a quick prayer that I was doing the right thing.

I turned to the cashier and again asked the amount of the bill. With disapproval in her voice, she told me how much the young woman owed. I ignored the cashier’s tone and dug through my purse collecting my last dollar bills, nickels, dimes, and pennies. My movements felt mechanical as I placed the bills and a pile of coins on the counter. I tried to hide my anxiety under the unfriendly eyes of the cashier. I knew I needed to do this. A man walked in from the back area and approached the counter. Surveying the scene, he gave the cashier a questioning look.

The young woman who had been the center of the controversy stared at me. She said a quick, “Thank you.”

I turned and nervously walked out to my truck. As I was buckling my seatbelt, the man from behind the counter ran up to my vehicle and knocked on my window. With a furrowed brow, he held up a handful of dollar bills. I rolled my window down.

“Hi, I’m the manager,” he said, his voice catching in his throat. “I want you to take this. It’s to pay you back for the woman’s gas.”

“No,” I replied. “I want to pay for her gas.”

“Please take it,” he said. He paused for a moment, seeming to collect his thoughts. “I didn’t know there were still people like you left in the world. Please, take the money.” His face was twisted with a half smile and confusion. His troubled expression convinced me to accept the money. It took only a moment to realize that it was not the girl I was meant to help, but the manager. For some reason he needed my random act of kindness more than she did. For some reason he needed his faith restored.

I thanked him and pulled out of the station. Dusk had settled in deeper and I remembered how much I love this time of day, how relaxed it always makes me feel. The last remnants of the sunset were disappearing. It took me a few moments to process my emotions about what had just happened. I was grateful I had listened to my heart, ignoring the cashier’s disapproving looks and my own doubts. I was thankful I had been in a position to help the woman pay for her gas, remembering many times when others had reached out over the years to help me. I was glad that I was able, in some small way, to give this man some kind of renewed hope.

A calm came over me as I realized there is more to the circle of life than simply life and death. There is a circle of giving and caring, and passing these things along when the opportunity arises — a different kind of circle — a circle of love, a circle of compassion.

~Nancy Engler

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners