A wet, chill, gloomy Sunday. Usually my husband and I take a long Sunday walk, stopping at the co-op grocery’s cafe to drink coffee and nibble on a fresh-baked cookie. But it’s raining too hard for a walk. I go to the gym instead. I stop at the co-op to buy Dick a cookie as a cheer-up surprise.
As I approach the check-out counter, a tall thin middle-aged man talks with the cashier. He’s about to pay for his purchases, and he’s asking her about joining the co-op. Seeing me standing there with just a cookie, he offers to let me go ahead. But he has already started his transactions. I thank him, but say, “That’s okay. The cookie is a surprise, my husband isn’t waiting for it, there’s no hurry.”
I wait the few minutes while he joins the co-op. At the last second, as the cashier processes his order, he snatches my cookie off the conveyor and tells the cashier to ring it up as part of his order. He’s paying for it in gratitude for my waiting for him.
I say, “You didn’t have to do that. But thank you.”
Then he says, “Do something nice for somebody today.”
I say, “I will.” And I leave.
But that comment – “do something nice for somebody today” – grows in my brain like an annoying dark cloud.
Why did I find it so irksome? I’ve been trying to figure that out. Here’s what I’ve concluded.
I felt as if he was using his thoughtful act to preach me a sermon, as if it wouldn’t occur to me to do another kind deed unless he, in his superior wisdom, told me to. He seemed to be saying, “Look how nice I am. Go thou now and do likewise.” Did I look as if I needed to be preached at?
I felt as if he was patronizing me, a tall vigorous guy reminding a little woman, probably a bit older than him, who might otherwise forget about kind acts. Did I look that clueless?
Besides, wasn’t his kind act, paying for my cookie, a response to my kind act in letting him proceed with his transaction? If the Universe of Kind Acts keeps count, weren’t we even?
Did spending $2.49 for a cookie give him the right to tell me what to do? He doesn’t even know me.
I fixed him. For the rest of the day, I did not do one kind act for anybody, at least not on purpose.
The thing about kind acts is this: A truly kind act comes from the heart. It does not create an obligation. It does not expect compensation. It does not hold itself up as an example. It just is.
A truly kind act is when a child comes into a secondhand book shop, falls in love with a book, doesn’t have quite enough money, and the shopkeeper makes up the difference from his own pocket, without telling anybody.
A truly kind act is when a woman in a supermarket offers to watch another woman’s groceries while the second woman tends to her crying baby.
A truly kind act is when a policewoman buys lunch for a homeless man as she buys her own lunch, then eats with him so he doesn’t have to eat alone.
A truly kind acts has no past, no future, just a bright fleeting present.
I would like to explain all this to that guy in the co-op. But to do that, I would have to preach a sermon. And that would not be kind.
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