Back in November, I was caught off guard as I rushed through life on a Monday morning, worrying only about my lack of caffeine. I sped to Starbucks on my way to work, hoping to fly through the drive-through and make it to the office in the knick of time. Yet an act of kindness was already underway.
Seconds after ordering my coffee, I was informed that the stranger ahead of me covered my tab. Just like that my chaotic world came to a screeching halt. I can still remember the feeling of tears welling in my eyes. Finally, life had given me a reason to pause and take a breath. Suddenly I realized there was more to life than my own petty needs.
This greater realization started with something as simple as a free cup of coffee… but I’d soon find that it’s never just that. It’s more. It’s always more.
That singular experience inspired me reach out to hear more stories. Were other people experiencing what I had? Had they been impacted the way that I was? Who was quietly paying it forward and making the world a better place?
As news of mass shootings, natural disasters, and war flooded our lives in the past few months, I knew it was the perfect time to share something enlightening. I knew that if I was losing sight of all the good in the world, likely others were too.
Individuals Eager to Share Their Stories
After sharing the history of kindness, creative ways to give (like pinting it forward), and the mission behind an entire company that enables its employees to pay it forward each year, I decided the only thing I was missing was individual stories—the ones that seem so insignificant that they often remain untold.
I reached out to friends, family, and acquaintances and inquired about their stories. What I found most surprising in doing so was the amount of people willing to divulge, no matter how trivial they thought their experiences might be. They wanted me to know how greatly these simple acts of kindness had impacted their lives.
It turns out, I wasn’t the only one moved by a simple cup of coffee. A friend of mine from college, Lucie, had a similar story to share. It was the week of finals during her sophomore year,and she was drowning in her studies. “The thought of twinkling Christmas lights—and as much coffee as I could suck down—was the only thing keeping me sane,” Lucie told me.
Like many college students, she was broke, recalling she had about $20 to her name at the time. However, studying always took precedence and the task required coffee to make it through the wee hours of the night. She decided to buy a cup on campus.
As she was handing the cashier money for a small coffee, the guy behind her offered to pay for hers in the spirit of Christmas. “I was on the verge of tears because it was so genuinely sweet and, well… stress will do that to you,” she said. “It was also a nice reminder—close to the holidays—that there is more in the world than what is going on in my life.”
Friends in the restaurant industry also had several experiences to note. Jessica, a fellow server, told me of the terrible day she had at work, explaining she had been yelled at by a guest for receiving the wrong order—a mistake made solely by the kitchen, not her. Jessica was on the brink of tears when another table, who had witnessed the incident (and her pain), chose to do something about it.
When they left, instead of leaving a standard 15 to 20 percent tip, they tipped her $40 on a $50 tab, leaving a simple note: “Merry Christmas.” Sometimes recognizing someone’s pain is enough kindness in and of itself. “Life had been so negative up to that point,” she said, “that the small display of kindness literally made me cry.”
[gdlr_quote align=”center” ]It was also a nice reminder—close to the holidays—that there is more in the world than what is going on in my life.[/gdlr_quote]
Another server was a direct witness of a random act of kindness last Christmas. Paying for someone’s $4 coffee at Starbucks is one thing, but covering a check for dinner is another story. “I had a table pay for the strangers next to them… [a family] with a young toddler,” Kelly, shared with me.
The table of two paid for their own tab and met Kelly on their way out, handing her a gift card and saying, “We’d like to pay for the table next to us… anonymously.” Kelly was taken aback. “I thought it was pretty amazing,” she said, recalling the day. Even without realizing it, we have the ability to affect more than just the direct recipient of our kindness. We have the power to inspire others around us who witness our actions.
In hearing these stories, I’ve also found that kindness has no borders. An old classmate, Liz, who is currently teaching English in Thailand, messaged me this week to tell me of her experience. She and her friend, while abroad, had decided to immerse themselves in the culture by visiting a floating market located an hour and a half from where they lived. To get out to the market, they shared a small boat with two women and three children. One woman spoke English and before the girls knew it, they found that the Thai woman was from the same town they were staying in.
When they were finished at the market, Liz and her friend had planned to take a bus home. Instead, the Thai woman insisted that they ride with her. “My friend and I graciously accepted her offer and piled into her tiny truck,” Liz said, as she told the story. The girls laughed and played with the children on the ride home.
When they offered to give the woman money for gas, “she refused to take it,” Liz said. “I was amazed at the kindness of this woman and the fact that she was willing to cram us into her car and expected nothing in return.” Stories like these remind us that no matter what country we live in or what beliefs we have, we are all human and ultimately looking for happiness. Kindness is often a way to achieve just that.
Sometimes kindness comes when we least expect it. A girl I had just met, Brittany, reached out to divulge her experience—one that was close to her heart. After blowing her tire on the interstate on a cold December day, a man named Dale stopped to help her. Not only did he change her tire, he followed her to a shop to buy a new one, offering to pay for it.
[gdlr_quote align=”center” ]Stories like these remind us that no matter what country we live in or what beliefs we have, we are all human and ultimately looking for happiness.[/gdlr_quote]
That in and of itself would have been worth noting. But Brittany explained the situation further. She got to talking to Dale and noted she had pulled over in an oddly familiar spot on the side of the road. Her boyfriend, Adam, of two and a half years had passed away in July, but before that, the spot was one where his pickup had broken down previously. Brittany explained her incident had also occurred on Adam’s birthday.
After Brittany shared her story Dale admitted he was also struggling with a loss; his wife had passed away recently, and he had chosen to stay busy by traveling. That day, he had nothing better to do than keep his mind off loneliness and stop to help a stranger on the side of the road. “Dale said that he was happy he had someone to relate to and that he felt compelled to stop without really knowing why,” Brittany explained. “After talking with me, the reason became clear.”
In the end, the most important lesson I learned was that no matter where you are or how big or small the act of kindness is, each gesture has an impact. We may never know the extent of its significance or where the chain of kindness will end, but one thing we can always be certain of is kindness matters.
Follow the series:
- Kindness Matters: A History of Paying It Forward
- Kindness Matters: Pinting It Forward Leads To Warm + Fuzzies
- Kindness Matters: How Would You Give Away $1,000?
Featured photo via blog.klout.com