My little world is full of indulgences.
This weekend, the kids and I threw a Willy Wonka party in our living room to celebrate finishing reading aloud Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
While I was at the checkout, loading all of our completely superfluous treats into my cart, an old woman in line behind me began placing her items on the counter. I barely glanced at her as I gathered my bags.
Preparing to leave, I heard a dull clatter of coins hit the linoleum. After a pause, the cashier softly cautioned, "Sugar, you'll only be able to buy your knee-highs with that. You don't have enough for your ice cream."
I looked up and took in the old woman, small and a little disheveled, with a little white plastic egg (presumably her knee-highs) on the counter next to a box of ice cream.
She looked dismayed at the cashier's warning and didn't react. She looked at her box of ice cream, pursed her lips and worriedly fiddled with the clasp on her emptied coin purse. She sighed but made no move to produce any more money. She was frozen between desire and reality. The cashier sighed.
The writer's brain never freaking stops. Instantly I conjured a mini play of her life. In the time it took for me to take in the scene, I cast her as a loving grandmother on a fixed income, giving in to a childhood memory of Drumsticks on summer days, not stopping to figure the damage to her current-day budget.
They cost $4.29. Her coins on the counter were mostly nickels and pennies.
Maybe nine seconds had passed between the cashier speaking and my producing a movie of this stranger's life in my mind. I whisked my bags into my hand, slipped $5 from my wallet, handed it to the cashier and whispered as I leaned in to grab my last bag, "Buy her ice cream for her."
Like a jackrabbit in fast-forward, I bolted, the scene playing out behind me in slow-motion. As the doors whooshed closed, I heard the cashier attempt to explain in a raised voice, "Honey, she paid for your ice cream. Honey! Sugar, look here!"
I have issues with jeopardizing people's pride. I didn't want to look at her. I didn't want to make her look at me.
And then I sat in my car and cried.
I felt helpless. All I did was buy ice cream for a woman who hadn't planned ahead. I concocted some half-baked story in my head about her childhood and then ran out of there with my bags full of sugar for my kids.
So I also felt ashamed.
Nothing is enough. No amount of help is enough. A single box of chocolate and nut-covered ice cream cones doesn't make a dent.
I just wanted her to have it. I wanted to stop her disappointment in its tracks. Just this once.
The smallness of my choice rang in my ears. That's why I cried.
But small acts add up. I know this. I have to believe this. Small acts are all I have.
For the next 40 days, I am choosing a single small gesture to make a difference greater than what I am capable of generating on my own.
Every day, I am replacing drinks like coffee and soda with tap water and keeping track of the cost of those saved drinks at the 40 Days of Water site. Every Sunday during Lent, I gather the money I saved during the week and donate it to Blood:Water Mission toward their well projects in Uganda.
This is important. And it's small.
But the impact? Is huge. Particularly because I am not alone.
From Blood:Water Mission
By sacrificing your daily routine, you will make a difference in the daily routine of a person in Africa.
It’s a big commitment to not drink anything but water for Forty days. But from February 13th to March 30th, that’s exactly what we’re asking you to do. It’s a lot easier if you do it with other people like your friends or family.
Please join me for the 40 Days of Water campaign and help raise funds to build clean water wells in Uganda. It's an honor to work with them on this campaign and I believe in it enough to want to share it.
You can start now. Missed the first few days? You can still track what you drank (other than tap water) and then donate the equivalent amount. Can't give up your coffee? Simply match the drink cost.
It will keep you mindful.
It has made me mindful.
Our bags of candy were indulgences this weekend. Clean, accessible water should not be an indulgence.
Wanting to make a difference in the lives of others, however small that difference may be, can feel overwhelming. Where do you start? Will it really matter?
Will these small gestures really matter? At the end of this 40 days, we'll see. I believe they will.