Under the Influence of Jenna

Posted on September 19, 2014 by Don MacPherson.

I did not know Jenna well growing up. When I was a high school senior, she was in eighth grade. Jenna and my younger sister, Heather, were friends from the same graduating class. They stayed in touch after graduation too, but I never got a sense for how close they were. On occasion I would hear about Jenna’s family, but nothing beyond a passing update.

That changed about a year ago. That is when Heather let me and the rest of our family know that Jenna – mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend – was sick. Heather asked that we keep her friend in our thoughts and she asked us if we would be willing to support Jenna with a meal. Jenna was recovering and her family needed help with the things she would normally have done.

A couple months after Heather’s request for help, she asked if I would go with her to a benefit supporting Jenna. The goal was to raise money, but more than anything there was a room full of people who were supportive and loving. Jenna looked amazing. I hadn’t seen her in many years. I couldn’t believe she was sick.

She appeared incredibly happy around her family and friends. I said hello to Jenna, told her she looked great, and then talked with some of the other people I knew at the gathering. I had come to help my sister more than anything.

In November of last year Jenna lost her battle with cancer. She fought, but in the end the disease was too much. She left behind two children and a husband. Heather, also a young mother, was devastated. I called to comfort her. We talked for a while. I let her know that if she ever wanted to talk about losing her friend, she could call me. She never brought it up again.

Six months later, our family met at Heather’s to celebrate Memorial Day. It was a chaotic day with kids, dogs, and competing agendas. You might start hundreds of conversations and only finish about a few of them. I overheard one person say “didn’t Jenna do that?”

I was curious. “What did Jenna do?”

“She used to pay for the people behind her in the drive-through.”

Apparently, Jenna took the idea of random acts of kindness to heart. It was explained that during the holidays she would sometimes tape $20 bills to the gas pump for the next person. One of my family members asked, “what if the gas station attendant took it?” It turns out she didn’t care!

Sometimes she would order at a fast-food drive-through window. When she paid, she would let the person taking the money know she wanted to pay for the next car’s meal. She would pay for both meals then drive away.

There is something beautiful and touching about that selflessness. I have thought about it for months and finally gave it a try. The $20 and Post-it note that I taped to the gas pump have made me smile for days.

Jenna 1                 Jenna 2

Each of us has been shaped by hundreds of people during the course of our lives – family, friends, bosses, teachers, even strangers or people we don’t know well. If you find 20 bucks the next time you are filling up, you just might be getting a gift from someone under Jenna’s influence too.


To read other blog posts from this author, please go to Don MacPherson’s Blog.

24 responses to “Under the Influence of Jenna”

  1. Jeff Pery says:

    Wow, powerful and touching. Great story and completely inspiring.

  2. Tx for sharing Don! For me the most inspiring is that Jenna didn’t care who was benefitting from her generosity – no expectation or need for thank you. A few weeks ago I saw an elderly guy pay for a boy in front of him at the Aldi, for a loaf a bread which he didn’t have enough money for. Just like that. When the cashier asked the man “Do you know this boy” the man said: “No, never seen him before.” And last christmas as I rushed out of a grocery store I saw a cold bell ringer. I turned around, asked him whether he preferred coffee, tea or hot chocolate and went inside, got him his hot drink and added a muffin. When I handed it to the bell ringer he couldn’t say a word. Just stared at me in disbelief. And I walked off, smiling for the longest time.

  3. Robin Balke says:

    What a wonderful story. It’s amazing how people that are going through such struggles in their life still manage to touch others. Although I have paid for drive-thru orders behind me, I had never thought about the gas pump idea. I will certainly be giving it a try. Thank you for sharing your experience and hope it inspires others to “pay it forward”.

  4. Anne Marie says:

    Such a nice tribute and how wonderful that she continues to make the world a better place after she is gone. How amazing that she could do that – and be so kind when she was fighting that battle. Really inspirational.

  5. Real-life examples of compassion are a leadership example to others who will take action, too. Small gestures, big impact and the power of simple kindness take place everyday! Thank you Don! Check out another example of a show of friendship. When two Texas teens nominated for homecoming queen at Grand Prairie High School, made a secret, selfless pact. “Texas homecoming queen gives crown to bullied friend.”

  6. Deb Phillips says:

    Great story! Touching, inspring, and great motivation to “pay it forward”. Thank you.

  7. Cinda Yager says:

    Don, lovely post! Jenna sounds like she was quite a human being to know. We can never know how someone we meet will fit into our lives or influence us. Sometimes that influence is subtle, sometimes it’s immediate and shocking. Two things I keep in mind now: to be clear in my personal intent in being in the world, and the meaning of “Namaste” (“the Buddha in me greets the Buddha in you”) that connects everyone on a spiritual level.

  8. Beth Lange says:

    Agree! It is a powerful story that makes you stop and think about unusual ways to reach out and support others.

  9. Denise gallant says:

    Thank you Don for sharing. Paying it forward is an amazing gesture. If the world would tAke in this advice and act on it, we would all live in a great place. Thank you for sharing. Those of us who believe in gratitude can all learn from this story and apply it today! Denise

  10. Sarah says:

    Thank you for sharing! I’ll be doing this at my next Starbucks visit. 🙂

  11. Mary Hennessey says:

    Don, Thank you for sharing. Jenna was doing the drive-thru difference. In doing so, she not only touched the hearts and influenced others such as yourself, but she also revealed her heart to the world. Our words and actions are truly a reflection of the condition of our hearts. Though Jenna lost her battle to cancer she shined her love and light brightly to this world. Selfless sacrifice – in the midst of her battle – is overwhelmingly inspiring… Not to mention contagious – way to shine your light through your $20 at the gas pump! Mary

  12. That is literally “paying it forward”
    Very inspiring and all too rare.
    Thanks for sharing and allowing Jenna’s spirit to live on

  13. After less than a stellar day, I am humbled and reminded that there are those that walk among us that are never truly appreciated until after they’re gone. Thanks for sharing! Thanks for paying it forward! Hugs to you and Heather!

  14. Sally May says:

    How touching! There are two things here. One is the valient fight that Jenna went through against a terrible disease that I know all too well. She is a warrior. She left us so much with this gesture of paying for someone else. I will remember Jenna, and I will respect what she did to inspire me to pick up the gauntlet and continue her work. Thank you for sharing this piece.

  15. Cindy says:

    While I didn’t know Jenna, I am from the same home town community that wrapped their arms and hearts around her and her family.
    I love the idea about the money at the gas pump! While it is a nice gesture to pay for someone’s Starbucks or fast food, I believe $20 in gas would go a long way for the many struggling working families who don’t have the funds to go through a drive through.

  16. Ann says:

    Jenna was truly a phenomenal woman with a loving heart. She was hopelessly upbeat and patient. Her tenderness and generosity was never-ending. I worked for years with her at the MN Supreme Court Boards. I still cannot believe she is gone. I miss her with all of my heart and think of her often.

    Thank you for sharing this memory and inspiring others to keep Jenna’s memory alive with acts of kindness.

  17. Wendy (Walker) Royce says:

    Wow Don! Brought me tears… “pay it forward” xo

  18. Carol says:

    Thank you Don for a great story. It made me smile and become a little teary eyed.
    In a world where all we hear are negative and callous actions towards our fellow human beings it is great to hear there are wonderful people doing selfless and kind things for those they don’t know and will probably never meet. What I liked the most about this story was that Jenna did not care who benefited from her acts of kindness. I am sure that her family and friends will miss her, but she will always be remembered with love for her selflessness. Thank you for the reminder that the world is filled with many caring people.

  19. Lisa says:

    I did this at Starbucks the other day because someone had done it for me a couple months ago. It was fun to pay for the car behind me and not know who the person was. It made me smile to wonder what that person thought. I hope it made her day. These small acts of kindness could change the world!

  20. My sister is a Jenna (she pays for people’s gas and fast food, too).

    Thank you for sharing such a special, heart-wrenching story. A great reminder to all of us on many fronts.


  21. Maureen says:

    Don, nice story and good time to share.

    And because you share the story, Jenna is still influencing people. Thanks for paying it forward.

    And Carolien, that’s nice – what you did for the cold bell ringer. Good idea – you influenced me, too!

  22. Bob Perry says:

    I decided to put up an gratitude tree in our employee entrance this year to see what everyone is thankful for…or something that someone did for you and you were thankful for or something you did for someone…I think it got us thinking about these small acts of kindness that others do for you that can change your bad day to a good day quickly…now go do a small gesture of kindness for someone

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