Noble: The gift that keeps on giving |

Noble: The gift that keeps on giving

I have been seeing this a lot — complaints that when you pay it forward by purchasing a “frothaccino” drink for the person behind you in the Starbuck’s drive-thru, you are treating someone who can already afford it. Sure, but perhaps the gesture is not about ending world hunger. Perhaps the gesture is simply a random act of kindness. Everyone, regardless of economic circumstances, could use a little kindness. Frankly, our society could use more people behaving kindly.

Besides, no one knows what others are going through or struggling with. The “butterfly effect” of extending a kindness to a stranger may result in a cascade of kindness that makes a difference in many lives. One thing is certain, it is never wasted.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted,” Aesop wrote.

On a recent visit to Grand Junction, I wanted a Coke Zero, my caffeinated beverage of choice, but there were no fast-food drive-thrus in sight — so my husband pulled into a dumpy looking gas station on the south side of town. I was crabby about the choice, but went inside anyway out of desperation.

I grabbed a Zero from the refrigerated case and headed to the cashier, where an elderly woman ahead of me deposited a variety of food items on the counter, a backpack laying slumped on the floor at her feet. By the looks of her selections, mostly frozen and canned food items, this gas station was where she did her grocery shopping. She was rummaging through her wallet while fumbling with her intended purchases. I reached out and caught a can of chili before it rolled off the counter. I wondered how she was going to fit these items in her backpack and how she would get home so heavily weighed down.

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Then it hit me: I was there to help. The circumstances of that morning put me on a trajectory to intercept this woman. Wordlessly, I handed the cashier my credit card, she nodded her understanding and rang up the purchases. I helped the woman pack her backpack, slung it over my shoulder, grabbed her 12-pack of soda and escorted her to the car where my husband and kids acted as though her joining us was completely expected.

In the few minutes it took to drive several blocks away to the place she was staying, she talked about her family moving to Grand Junction from somewhere back East when she was just a kid. Her parents were long gone, and she was homeless. Her reversal of fortune raised many questions I would never ask; it was none of my business.

A generous soul provided a place for her to stay. I was relieved that she had a roof over her head. I set her backpack down on the porch and we hugged goodbye.

“It’s my birthday,” I explained to her, and thanked her for the gift of making her acquaintance.

A few months later during a road trip crisscrossing southern Utah, we stopped in Page, Arizona, so I could see Horseshoe Bend. Upon finishing our meal that evening at the oddly named but charming Bonkers Restaurant, the waitress excitedly informed us that another couple paid for our dinner. When I protested, she said it was too late — the bill was paid, and the couple who paid it was long gone.

We kept it going by paying for another family’s dinner. The fact that we were all dining in a restaurant indicated that we could afford our dinners, but that was never the point.

The point was that we did not know each other’s names, religions or political affiliations. Kindness was offered with no strings attached, no acknowledgement, and no expectation of an expression of gratitude. The gift was not the meal. The gift was kindness extended to a stranger.

Kindness is cyclic. When you extend kindness, you make others feel good, and you feel good in return.

This week many of us will give and receive gifts that are welcome, but also expected. And they will be lovely, mostly. But few gifts have the potential to improve the lives of others, our own lives, and make our community a nicer place to live — in the way kindness can.

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