Lisa Kern

Lisa Kern
Pennsylvania, US
March 28
I'm a mom of three boys, a needy dog, and an insolent cat. When I'm not writing, vacuuming up pet hair, or cleaning pee off the toilet seat, I like to fantasize about jeans that actually fit and an all-you-can-eat-chocolate-and-cheese diet. Welcome to my party.


Lisa Kern's Links

JANUARY 4, 2012 4:31PM

A cheeseburger with a side of karma

Rate: 35 Flag


Once in a while, I'm not a nice person.

OK, OK...I'm frequently not a nice person.  I complain about The Way Things Are (a lot,)  I can be cranky and unpleasant, and I totally stink  at remembering to be grateful for all that I have.

Lately, it feels as if I've had more than my share to complain about.  From money woes to banks behaving badly to politicians who can't seem to do the right thing, life these days is a veritable smorgasbord of suckiness.

The other day, as my son Evan and I were out doing errands, the background noise in my head continued to remind me of How Bad Things Are, as if I might forget.  Like a scratched vinyl record, the latest round of unfair events kept repeating, over and over, in spite of my efforts to silence them.

My mental pity party was interrupted by my son's voice:  "Can we stop somewhere for lunch, Mom?  I'm really hungry."  Because we'd left the house in a rush, Evan didn't have a chance to eat breakfast.

I thought about my anemic finances.  I had $130 in my wallet which had to last until next pay day, and I still needed gas, groceries, and dog food.  We had no business stopping anywhere to eat.  Still, Evan was hungry.  What sort of mother would I be if I didn't get him something to eat?  I decided to stop at a local burger place.

My mood worsened when I saw the manager pull a table apart from two others, leaving only six inches between us and a table of young people.  I wanted to be as far away as possible from other people and yet, here we were, forced to practically share a table with three total strangers.  

As we looked at the menu, I mentally tabulated our meal, feeling guilty for what seemed an extravagance in a week full of nothing but scarcity.

Our food arrived as the people next to us were given their bill.  A young man in the group took a credit card out of his wallet and handed the bill back to the manager to pay it. 

           "I'm sorry," said the manager, handing the bill and the credit card back to him.  "Our credit card machine isn't working today.  You'll have to pay with cash."  He left the bill on the table and walked away as the three of them began checking purses, pockets, and wallets for enough money to pay the bill. 

Since we were sitting so close to one another, I could hear their panicked words at not having enough cash.

And that's when it happened, the granddaddy-of-all-nudges to do something good:  You should pay their bill. 

Seriously?  Me?  I can't afford to pay their bill.  I'm worried about having to pay my own!

The nudge became more insistent:  Pay their bill. 

But what if they think I'm crazy if I tell them I'm going to pay their bill?


Fine!  I'll pay the bill if they don't have enough money. 

I took a deep breath and turned toward the table next to ours.

           "Excuse me, I don't mean to be rude, but do you have enough money to pay your bill?"

All three of them looked at each other, unsure how to respond.  A young man in the group said, "Well, actually, we don't."

Oh boy.  Now I was definitely committed.  Remembering the insistence of my do-good nudge, I blurted out, "I'm going to buy your lunch."     


           "I'll pay for your lunch.  How much is it?"

I peered over at the check.  $31.02.  I felt relief that I had enough cash in my wallet to pay for both our food and theirs.

I grabbed the check, feeling completely certain of my decision. 

           "I'm totally serious about this.   I know this sounds crazy, but something just told me to pay for your lunch, so that's what I'm doing."

They looked at each other in disbelief, then took turns protesting:  You can't do that!  We'll figure it out.  It's OK.  One of us will go find an ATM. 

I pulled out some cash, put it with their bill, and handed it to the manager, who gave me a puzzled look.  "They're a little short of cash so I'm paying for their lunch."

When the group realized that I did, indeed, pay for their lunch, they were relieved and appreciative.  One girl said, "I just don't understand why you did that.  No one would pay the bill of total strangers!"  

           "Well, maybe they should,"  I said.  By this point, I was feeling great, as if I'd just received a booster shot of compassion, generosity, and goodwill.           

The young man said, "Thank you so much for this.  How can we repay you?"   

           "Just be happy about it, and do something nice for someone else when you have a chance." 

They left amid a chorus of thank-yous and promises to do good deeds of their own.

Evan, who had witnessed the whole thing, was blown away.  "Wow, that was really nice of you!  I can't believe you paid for their lunch."

Suddenly, I was filled with all of the reasons why I HAD to pay for their lunch.  I hadn't seen them before, but now they were crystal clear to me, as if I'd just become part of a great knowing.  I wasn't about to miss this teachable moment for my son.  

          "You know, Evan, there's so much in the world that needs our help.  I get discouraged a lot of the time because usually, the problems are too big for a person like me to fix.  Helping out those people?  That was one problem that I could fix."

Driving home, Evan and I continued to talk about good deeds, and how fabulous you feel after doing one, and how you don't need to have tons of money to help others.  We imagined all three of those young people doing their own good deeds, spreading positive ripples farther and farther into a world of people starved for a touch of goodness and light.

Honestly, there is nothing that I could have bought for $30.00 that would have given me greater joy.

Absolutely nothing.   


*photo by Lisa Kern, 2011

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You're absolutely right. The amount of joy you felt could not be bought. What a wonderful teaching moment for all those young people, including your son.

Your writing shines.

It will come back to you, I know that.r
What a lovely story, Lisa! That $30 paid for one perfect lesson in community/generosity/compassion for your son, and those you helped. Money very well spent.
May the feeling and understanding of true abundance stay present in you throughout the coming year - I've got a notion it's going to be a fabulous year for you!
You rock, Lisa, and don't you forget it.
With money very tight in my home I can absolutely relate! I like that you felt a tug. Did you explore where the tug came from?

"That was one problem I could fix." Powerful words.

Thank you!
One of the first dinners I took my mom out to after my dad died an elderly gentleman we were chatting with insisted on picking up our tab, ( not know anything about us of course). I argued a bit then thanked him very much, it was such a wonderful gesture. I tease my mom it was a sign from dad. What a nice thing, to be the good guy, upbeat post today Lisa, thanks for that.
that's one of the very best holiday stories I've heard, and I'm not at all surprised at this point I heard it from you. You got a big heart, and if what goes around comes around your turn is coming.
I love this more than I can say. Nice. Really, really nice. ~r
Today, you were a nice person. Lovely story, well-told.
Beautiful post Lisa. I love how you connected all the things wrong with the world, with your ability to change one thing that is wrong. You were able to bring the reader into your state of mind (one we all find ourselves in from time to time) and show a positive way out. Very evocative writing. Rated:-)
You taught your son an important lesson.
Thank you all for finding this! I never post at night and wasn't sure anyone would see it.

Fusun - Aw, thank you! That teachable moment is definitely what felt best for me. I'm happy that I had the chance - albeit reluctantly - to be an example for my son.

hugs, me - That's the same thing that the manager said to me. And then he gave us free dessert. :)

Barb - I agree. I gained so much more than the $30 I spent. Thanks for your kind words.

Ardee - Right back at you, my friend. XOXO

Mango - You asked where the tug came from. I can't specifically say, only that I get them frequently. Is it God? Intuition? Guardian Angels? I don't know, but through the years, I've learned to listen when I get them. When I do not, I'm always sorry later that I didn't.

Rita - I love that you still remember that man's gesture of paying for your and your mom's dinner. How many other dinners remain in memory? Kindness always lingers. The very best outcome would be if my little action started a chain reaction that's still going. Wouldn't that be something?

Unbreakable - Thank you. :)

Ben - Consider this your virtual hug, my friend. You made me get all teary. Much love to you.
Joan - I love YOU more than I can say. Thank you so much.

keri h - I guess tomorrow I can go back to being cranky again - LOL!

Sarah - Wow, thanks! What a nice comment. I don't always successfully make that leap from "life sucks" to "life's good" but I'm definitely going to try harder in the future.

Bernadine - So nice to see you. :)
Thanks for sharing this inspiring story. Like you, I often feel that I'm too poor and burdened by my own troubles to be able to help anyone else, but, every so often, I'm also given reminders that I can still be part of the solution. You did a wonderful thing and the lesson for your son was worth far more than $31!
Hey Lisa,

Thanks for reminding us that it only takes a moment to create a miracle.
You're a peach Lisa... no doubt of that. The lesson for your Evan is priceless and $31.02 is not a make or break moment, even when things are tough like they are... BUT.. the credit card machine is broken, to me, adds up to THE RESTAURANTS problem. Did they have a sign on the door?
I had a similar experiences last summer. I was waiting in a DQ drive-thru feeling a little down in the dumps. When I got up to the window the cashier handed me my order and told me that the person in the car ahead of me had paid for it. It wasn't anywhere near the amount you paid (just got some ice cream for my kids) but that little "random act of kindness" did so much for my attitude and faith in the goodness of people, silly as that sounds, that I've since done it a few times. This was a wonderful story!
Lisa, i am a good deed doer and relate totally to what you did and even more to what you felt. I just wrote a post that so fits with yours, called Take this Test. Thank god for our good hearts!
Your words and your actions make the world a better place, Lisa. Love this story!
Such a great post. I've had those urges from time to time and when I act on them, I always feel uplifted. The fact that your son and other young people happened to be around makes it even better.
karma is real...but I have a feeling you did this, not for any reason that could benefit you, not because you had any sense that it would make you feel so good...nay, there was a goodness percolating there. One that was real, magnificent and totally true to your nature.
When God spoke, you listened. And there is nothing that feels better than that!
Loved this. That feeling you had was worth 31 bucks. And, I' d bet such an act will have a profound affect on your son and very possibly on all those kids you helped.
That was a wonderful thing.
I've paid it forward before too.
We're going to have to to get out of this.
CatholicGirl - Thanks for stopping by!

Eva - Exactly! It's hard to feel as if you're able to help someone else when you're struggling. I guess that's why we get those nudges that force us to get outside of ourselves.

Diana - Thank you, my friend. XOXO

Trig - Great to see you here! The restaurant actually did have a sign on the door that the credit card machine was broken. Those kids must not have seen it.

Margaret - What a great experience you had. I love how it made you feel so much better that you started doing similar things for others, too. So many times we only see the spread of negativity. How nice to be part of something so positive!

Wendy - I know you are always helping others and I feel privileged to have you as a friend. Your light shines bright and is a constant inspiration to me. I will check out your post. XOXO

Lucy - Thank you! I appreciate your support so much.

Emma - I think the nudges come from something bigger than ourselves. I'm certainly thankful for this one and its power to lift me out of my funk.

Gary - I'm not always that good of a person, but your comment makes me feel as if I can be. Thanks for the love, my friend. XOXO

Deborah - Exactly. :)

fernsy - Thank you! It felt great to be part of something so good for a change.

Phyllis45 - Thank you!

alsoknownas - Doesn't it feel wonderful being part of the ripple? Maybe we can change the world, one good deed at a time.
Sweet story.

Hope you get thru to the next pay-day!
I am so glad I popped in to read this, Lisa. Fabulous writing with a fine message. I will never get enough of your tales.
What a wonderful stroke of luck it was that your chance to do something kind and good *and* show your son the lesson. You wrote this beautifully, Lisa. Thanks for telling the story here.
That was such a wonderful gesture. I agree with what others have said: It's bound to come back to you one day. R
What a great story! Thanks for the teaching moment.
Great story. These small actions can make someone's day, and benefit us more than the recipient. Living in a tourist town, I am frequently asked for directions, often so many times in a single outing that I want to respond to inquiries with an I don't know where that is. Still, my intention is to try really hard to respond with helpfulness and patience. It's a comparatively easy way to help a fellow human, it costs nothing, and maybe when I'm lost in your town, you or someone like you will stop and give me directions.
Wonderful Lisa, just wonderful. I'd say $30+ dollars was well worth how that time will stand out not only for those kids, but your son as well.
Thank you all for your responses to this piece. You've really touched me with your support.

Myriad - Thank you. Oddly, it does seem to be working out.

Dr. Spudman - I'm so happy to see you here, my friend. I really appreciate how kind you are. Always.

Candace - Thank you! I appreciate you sharing in our collective lesson. I'm not sure who learned more that day: Evan or me!

Deborah - I feel as if it already has. So much kindness has come my way. Thank you for taking time to read and comment.

mypsyche - Glad to see you. Thank you for stopping by.

greenheron - To me, you've always been a shining light. I would definitely give you directions AND buy you lunch if you came to my town. :)

Mary - Thank you, Mary. It truly felt like a magical moment for me. I hope that my son and those young people feel the same way.
That's a wonderful lesson to teach your son. I've had those "voices" come to me as well, and I only listen to the ones that urge me to do good things.