Last Friday morning, I walked home from the grocery store with tears running down my face. It had promised to be a very ordinary day: drop off the kids at school, pick up a few things from the supermarket, get some laundry done and some emails answered before teaching at noon. I’d be thinking about what needed to be prepared for a busy weekend, what Christmas shopping is left, what assessments I need to cover with my students before winter break.
Instead, I got out my wallet to pay at the checkout, and heard the man standing there say, “I’ll take it.” He was short, with glasses, a navy blue jacket, salt-and-pepper hair, and a big smile. He said, “Merry Christmas.” The cashier twinkled at me – this person had just paid the bill for at least one person ahead of me too, including the $120 coat in the cart. (I had caught the end of that conversation but not understood what it was about.)
I admit to having been stunned at that moment. Immediately my eyes filled with tears. Not because I am in need of this generosity; just because it was beautiful. It did not enter my mind to refuse, even as I was wishing the gift had landed on someone for whom it would make a bigger financial difference. I did not wonder at the motivation – this man was obviously just getting a great kick out of nonchalant supermarket generosity at 9 a.m. on a Friday. I waited until he had paid, then I shook his hand and wished him a Merry Christmas, meeting his eyes so he could see that I’d been moved.
My eyes are getting teary all over again as I write this. I can’t even fully explain why.
I know that generosity is all around me. As an elementary school teacher in a very supportive community, I see generosity in big and little ways all the time, from kids and parents and staff. The same is true at my children’s school. These are “have” communities, good at sharing.
I am lucky to live in a place where, as another example, one lovely (artist and blogger) friend of mine was able to rally a large group of women to give their time and money, creating enormous holiday baskets, full of items both crucial and fun, for our local women’s shelter.
Maybe my reaction comes from the fact that self-gratification, overconsumption, and narcissism are writ so large in the world right now. They wear us down, both individually and as a species. Sometimes, a person just needs to be thoroughly surprised by another human’s ability to defy social norms in the name of giving. I can tell you, I appreciated that shock.
Now, I get to benefit twice. My plan is to pay forward this gesture in my own ways, thus also enjoying surprising some folks with something nice, whether they need it or not… But also, it’s my good fortune to keep that moment I’ll never forget, a reason to weep happily over twenty-seven dollars and change.
For Christmas, I wish for you to witness a kindness that puts tears in your eyes.