“Huan”, “Maylena”, and ONE Cup of Coffee

“We can help others in the world more by making the most of yourself than in any other way.” ~ Earl Nightingale.
That’s just one of MANY quotes about the value of helping others. Call it whatever you wish; service above self, help yourself by helping others, it all means the same. If we’re in a “bad place”, one of the BEST ways of helping ourselves is by helping others. More importantly, doing so expecting nothing in return is probably THE most powerful action we can take to make ourselves “feel better.” But it’s SO much more than that. Nearly everyone knows of the movie “Pay it Forward”, the story of a young boy who, as part of a school project, decided to perform random acts of kindness for three complete strangers, asking nothing in return. All he asked was that THEY, in turn, each perform acts of kindness themselves for three other people. You get the picture. Do the math. It didn’t take long before “Pay it Forward” went global. But that was just a movie, right? Wrong. Which is the whole point of this latest chapter of “Ramblings.”
Most of you reading this are part of my Facebook page called “Gusto.” And most of you on that page also know one of the principles I live by, or at least try to, is following the example set in the movie I’ve described above, a movie I love dearly. I’ve written extensively about it. Stories of random acts of kindness I’ve done and the impact it’s made, not only on other people’s lives, but mine as well. The website/blog where you’re reading this is FILLED with such stories, one of which is a personal favorite of mine, the story of driving out to the desert near Palm Springs, CA. in late February this year on a whim. The story of how I woke up in a hotel room there at 3 a.m. with this URGE to keep moving “forward.” A story of how I quickly packed and drove off in a driving rain storm early that morning, then finding myself lost, or so I thought, when I pulled into a gas station near Riverside, CA. to fill up, only to meet an Hispanic lady named Teresa and a black lady named Sharron. The story of how Teresa had run out of gas only miles from her destination and, while Sharron was willing to help, couldn’t, simply because what money she had left she was using for her daughter’s 13th birthday, which just “happened” to be that day. The feeling I had as I drove off that morning, after I had paid for Teresa’s gas so she could get home, and some money given to Sharron in honor of her daughter’s birthday that day is one I will never forget. But here’s the funny part, NEITHER of these ladies had ever heard of the movie “Pay it Forward”, let alone the concept. I guarantee you; I’ll bet they’ve touched MANY lives since! With that as background, here’s another story about two ladies who’ve also never heard of the movie.
Earlier this month, I travelled to Boston on a business trip, one involving my role in the nonprofit organization I work for. Upon arrival, we checked into our hotel and discovered there was a Starbucks located right inside near the lobby. “How convenient!” I thought. After all, I love coffee and Starbucks is one of my favorite places to “Pay it Forward.” They were closed that evening, since we arrived rather late, so I made plans to make my way down there the next morning. And that’s when I met “Huan” a Vietnamese immigrant, and “Maylena”, a Cuban immigrant, both of whom worked there.
Huan is your typical Asian woman, relatively short, and speaks English with a thick Asian accent, who’s been in America for 10 years. Oh, did I mention fast? She talks REALLY fast. She’s funny, too. For the first couple of days, she couldn’t understand my name when she called out for it while trying to write it on my cup. Kept calling me George. How, I wondered, could she get GEORGE out of Gus? Funny thing, George WAS the name of my great-great grandfather, an immigrant from Germany. But, I’m “rambling” here so to continue, Maylena is a young lady from Cuba, who’s been in America for 5 years and, I swear, could pass for a teenager, though I’m guessing she’s in her early 20’s. She’s shy, wears braces, but has a quiet resolved demeanor about her. I could tell she was humbled and proud to be in America.
The first day, after ordering coffee from Huan, I reached into my wallet and handed her a Starbucks gift card to give to the next person who ordered, someone who wasn’t even THERE yet, along with my payment, with instructions on what to do. I said, “Do you know the movie Pay it Forward?” Surprisingly, she said no. And then when I told Maylena the same thing, who was making the coffee that day, she TOO had never heard of it!
That’s when it hit me like a brick. What are the odds of meeting FOUR complete strangers in a country where nearly EVERYONE knows about that movie? All in the span of a few short months? Teresa, the Hispanic lady I bought gas for, Sharron, the black lady who’s daughter was having a birthday the day I met both of them near Riverside, CA. this past February, and here I’ve got Huan, a Vietnamese immigrant, and Maylena, a Cuban immigrant, NONE of whom had the first clue what I was talking about? The significance of those circumstances is astounding. Think about it. I wonder how many people THEY have helped since and, in turn, helped themselves?
As the week progressed while in Boston, Huan FINALLY got my name right, smiled broadly every time I came in, and even starting giving me a fist bump every morning. She kept saying, “I come to San Diego soon”, with that thick and fast Asian accent. She was a real hoot! But one thing I noticed about her. Often, when I came in, she was waiting on other customers and didn’t see me. Usually, she wasn’t nearly as friendly as she had been with me and didn’t smile as much. I kept telling her, “Huan, YOUR act of kindness is to show that same beautiful and friendly smile with everyone else like you do with me.” And she did. That was the payoff!
Nearing the end of my stay, I came in one morning and Huan wasn’t there. There was another lady in her place taking orders. But Maylena was there that morning. When I ordered from the new clerk, Maylena noticed, came over and whispered something in the clerk’s ears. Next thing I knew I had a free cup of coffee. As she handed the cup to me, I said, “That was sweet of you Maylena, so I gave you extra in your tip jar!”After all, I could imagine that, even though it was just ONE cup of coffee, it must have been a fairly large monetary gesture, given what I thought was her pay scale.
Maylena replied in a soft, respectful tone, “I’ve been thinking about that movie you call Pay it Forward and your thought about Keeping Kindness Alive. Last night, I was thinking about our world and how “cold” people can be sometimes. I wished there were more people like you. So, this morning, I decided to start the process my-self.” I said, “Maylena, that’s EXACTLY how it starts.”
I left Boston the next morning, with the memory of those two ladies, Huan, the Vietnamese immigrant, and Maylena from Cuba,  their broad friendly smiles, comforted by the fact that they’ve touched MANY lives since. Just as I imagine Teresa, the Hispanic lady, and Sharron, who is black, the two ladies I met at a gas station near Riverside, CA. earlier this year, have done so as well.
KEEP KINDNESS ALIVE my friends. “Pay it Forward.” The impact you will have on other people’s lives you may never know, but it’s virtually guaranteed you will help many. That thought alone should be enough to keep YOU moving forward! Finally, I’ll close this latest chapter with this; “BE the change you want to see in your world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi.

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