Jacob lost his first stable job in a while just because he chose to help an older woman that morning. He didn’t expect the sweet, helpless old woman to have a whole other side – that would end up getting him his job back.
If you had to survive the avalanche of struggles of your life without getting bitter about them, you had to think like Jacob.
Jacob lived alone in a tiny apartment, which he always left in half a mess. That’s because he figured that it was going to get messy again the following day anyway.
Jacob had two shirts, both had a button missing, and the fabric around the collar was a brown that not even the best detergent could whiten.
But it didn’t matter because every place he worked had provided a uniform of its own.
He liked to think of himself as a bit of a renaissance man — in the past year alone, he had worked as a plumber, a parking lot attendant, a ticket taker, a shampooer, and, nobody knew this, a backup dancer in a music video.
Since last month, Jacob had finally found a steady job in town. He worked as an attendant at the oldest grocery store in the neighborhood. He was excited to add another uniform to his backpack – and he really liked the look of this one, too.
He was unusually chirpy that morning. He was proud of himself for making his bed and leaving his room cleaner than usual. He had rehearsed the perfect conversation starter with Rita, the cashier, and he had timed his morning to arrive at the store 5 minutes before his shift.
“Finally, a good day!” Jacob said out loud, nodding his head to strangers who passed him by.
An older woman smiled back with equal enthusiasm, which added to Jacob’s happiness.
But a second after they crossed paths, Jacob heard a thud, followed by a frustrated voice.
“Now, isn’t this just wonderful! $2 for a paper bag that can’t even hold groceries for a 10-minute distance.”
Jacob turned around, and it was the same woman who had smiled at him a few seconds ago. Only this time, she was mumbling under her breath, trying to chase the apples and potatoes rolling along the pavement while struggling to hold a broken bag full of groceries.
“Move it along, lady!” a stranger shoved the old woman aside and sped forward.
“Well, isn’t that a lovely attitude to live with?” Jacob spoke loudly enough for the stranger to listen.
“I have just the thing to help you, ma’am,” he told the woman and pulled out two folded cloth bags from his backpack.
“Voila! Now please, stand back and let all that anger go while I pack these groceries up for you.”
The woman was heartened by the strange man’s kindness and amused by his buoyant mood.
“Thank you so much for helping this oldie out, Mr…”
“Oh, just call me Jacob. And you’re more than welcome. What I did for you is actually what I do for a living these days. I work at the Freshmart store.”
“Ah, you do? Sorry, but I stand by my opinion of their paper bags. Too flimsy!”
“I couldn’t agree more, ma’am.”
“Oh, please, call me Stacy.”
The conversation continued so smoothly that before they knew it, Stacy and Jacob had walked all the way to her house. Jacob had volunteered to carry the groceries for her without her even asking.
“This is incredibly sweet of you, Jacob. Come in, let me make you a coffee.”
“Oh no, ma’am, thank you. I’m already late for work. I’ll see you around!”
Jacob ran as fast as he could, but the blisters from his worn-out shoes held him back.
When he finally arrived at the store huffing and puffing, an angry store owner was waiting with rolled-up sleeves.
“What time does your shift start?” The man’s voice was even grumpier than his face.
“12 noon, sir.”
“And what is the time now?” The store owner had raised his voice.
“12:10 p.m., sir.”
“So what does that say about you?” The boss was beginning to enjoy this quizzing format.
“That you are UNPROFESSIONAL!” the man yelled, balling his fists.
“With all due respect, sir. I might be many things, but not—”
The store owner wasn’t going to allow himself to be argued with. Not in front of a packed store. “You! Get out! You’re fired! I don’t want lazy people like you working at my store.”
The calmness on Jacob’s face disappeared. He knew he couldn’t afford to lose this job.
“No, sir, please. I actually left my home earlier than usual this morning. But there was an old lady who needed help on the way. She was carrying a heavy bag of groceries, and the handle of the bag snapped, throwing all her things into the pavement. I just…”
“Oh, so kindness is the excuse of your choice, is it? Very original! That changes nothing. If you want to stand on the pavement and help passers-by carry their groceries, do that. Don’t waste my time and money.”
“Save it. Wear that stupid cheerful smile on your face again and get out of my store!”
‘Another lost opportunity,’ Jacob thought as he stood outside the shop and lit a cigarette. ‘Why can’t I manage to stick to one job? Why can’t I seem to make something out of my life? Maybe my father was right. I am a horrib—’
“Hi, Jacob! I was hoping I’d see you here!”
Jacob nodded with an empty smile, putting out his cigarette. It was the old woman, Stacy, from earlier.
“I brought you a fresh batch of cakes from the apples you helped me salvage this morning.”
Jacob was moved by Stacy’s kind gesture.
“Go on inside. There’s plenty for you and all your colleagues.”
Jacob’s face grew grim again.
“What’s the matter?” Stacy was concerned.
“I just got fired. The store owner sent me away for being 10 minutes late. I told him why I was late, but it didn’t seem to matter.”
“What? Arnold fired you?”
Jacob was surprised to hear his boss’s name out of the woman’s mouth.
“You know my boss?”
We need more kindness in this world – stand up for it when you can.
“Of course I do! He can be a real pain sometimes, with his anger always at the tip of his nose. But this is not done!” Stacy switched from sounding like a sweet, caring old lady to a fierce teacher.
“Arnold? Arnold!” Stacy created a scene with her shrill voice and quick steps. Jacob tried to stay as far behind as he could.
“Aunt Stacy, hi! How can I help you today?” Arnold was surprised to see her for the second time that day.
“Oh, don’t give me that!” Stacy blurted impatiently.
“Did you fire this young man for being late today?” Stacy pointed at Jacob, who was trying not to look directly at his former boss.
“I don’t understand. How do you—”
“He told me he was helping an old woman on the street, didn’t he? Well, guess who that woman was, Arnold? Me!”
The store employees had stopped their work midway, and the customers were invested, too.
“I’ve been warning Cindy that her boy was getting out of hand. First, you don’t call her for two weeks straight, saying you’re always busy, you forget your mother’s 70th birthday, and now this? Is this what you’re busy doing, Arnie? Bossing people around and firing them for showing an ounce of kindness? Do you even remember what kindness is, Arnie? Is this what you’ve grown up to become? I doubt this is the same boy I helped my friend raise…”
“Alright, alright, aunt Stacy!” Arnold interrupted.
“I had no idea it was you he was helping. And anyway, it shouldn’t have mattered. I’ve just been so stressed with work here that I…I took it out on this well-intentioned man. It wasn’t right of me. I realize that now.”
“Are you sure you do? Because I’m ready to lecture you for another hour if that’s what it takes!” Arnold held her, pleading for her to calm down, much to the amusement of the staff.
“Jacob, I apologize for how I acted earlier. You can have your old job back. Actually, I’m also going to take a look at your salary. You deserve more than I pay you because you have much more work experience. Let me fix that in the coming week. For now, would you please join back?”
Jacob froze, standing right by the frozen foods section. He couldn’t believe what had just happened and that a sweet old lady had schooled his boss into hiring him back.
“Well, don’t just stand there, Jacob!” Stacy instructed Jacob enthusiastically. “Get back to it! The first task on your list: distribute these cakes to everyone. They’re getting cold!”