As I was going through the drive-through at Starbucks the other day, I got to the window to pay and the barista informed me that my order had been paid for. Turns out, the car in front of me had bought me my drink. I immediately thought, do I know that person? I mean, why else would a stranger – for no reason – buy me a cup of coffee?
As we head into Thanksgiving, a time we remind ourselves of the many reasons to be grateful, I thought about that coffee. Not the fact that I just saved five bucks, but how all day long following that unexpected gesture I was in an extra good mood, with a big smile, a pep in my step and thought about what I could do to make someone else’s day a little brighter.
It’s funny how the things you remember about your childhood, that you didn’t realize at the time, end up having such a profound influence in your life. My mom was a single working woman who juggled three jobs to pay rent, keep food in the refrigerator and make sure the electricity wasn’t shut off.
However, my most vivid memories are not of our struggles but of my mom’s random acts of kindness. We always went to the mall during the holidays so she could take one of those Toys for Tot’s cards off the tree and buy an unwrapped gift for a kid she didn’t know.
She always felt bad that she could only afford one gift and then snuck back before Christmas to buy another. She made sure she had dollar bills to put the red Salvation Army kettle. Whether it was a turkey, canned food or a clothing drive, we were there with food and bags of clothes. We never had any serious discussions about why this was important to her or to the people she helped, it was just obvious that these small gestures made her happy.
When I went off to college and was on my own, it just seemed natural to continue down the road my mom unintentionally or intentionally paved for me. Along the way, I found my own causes where I give my time and I fully understand why any gesture can warm your heart.
My mom was in an assisted living facility for many years and I took my daughter to visit at least twice a week. She would play the piano and entertain not just my mom but also many of the other senior citizens who lived there. It wasn’t always the most fun for a child, but it had become our family routine.
Years after my mom passed away and we had our last visit to the care facility, my daughter and I started volunteering at a different senior citizens’ home. We visit with the residents, but most of the time, we lead a group in Bingo. By now, my daughter knows many of the people by name, who likes what prize and who gets mad if she yells out the numbers too fast or too slow.
The last time we were there, one of the women grabbed her hand and gave her back the candy she had just won because she told my daughter she had done such a great job.
It was an unexpected act of kindness that put the biggest smile on her face. She whispered that she couldn’t wait to go back.