When I was a little girl, I remember throwing pennies up in the air so that other little kids would find them and be happy. This was not something my mom or dad taught me; it was something I just did. My parents didn’t mind; I think they were mildly amused. Eventually, I worked up to throwing nickels and dimes and imagining excited, delighted children got even sweeter. The first time I threw a quarter my mother put her hands on her hips, stamped her foot and said “are you crazy, that’s a lot of money!” and it really was way back then. I went back to pennies, nickels, dimes and, of course, an occasional quarter, when she wasn’t looking. It was something that always felt right to me and defined me as a person. I never lost that quality, I just didn’t have a name for it.
Years later, when “Random Acts of Kindness” became popular because of Oprah I had a name for what I have always done. I now paid tolls on bridges for the cars behind me, I paid for a cup of Starbucks coffee for the next person in line. I sent a little boy a gift certificate to Toys R Us after his mom died signed by “a friendly neighbor.” When I heard that one of my on-line friends truly loved a certain book, I arranged for a brand new, shiny hardcover book to be autographed with her name, by the author, who happened to be a family friend. Imagining that book on its trip from the post office to her house kept me excited the entire week.
When my son was about four years old we visited my parents who lived out-of-town. I remember one bright and early morning my son, whom we dubbed ” the farmer,” woke up at 5:30am. Everyone else was fast asleep so I decided to take him out for breakfast, just me and my buddy on a date at a local diner. We ate blueberry pancakes with sweet, brown maple syrup and drank bright orange juice from small, plastic glasses.
In the booth in front of us there was an elderly woman looking cranky and mad and according to my son, “really mean.” We could hear her grousing and complaining often, first to herself and later on to the waitress. I told him that maybe the lady behind us, the “really mean lady” was not mean at all. Perhaps she was ill or lonely or very sad to be sitting by herself on an early Sunday morning. I asked my son if he wanted to play a new game; what four-year old would say no to a game?! I told him about a happy, surprise game that involved doing nice things for others that we could do together.
After we finished our meal we went over to the waitress and we paid our bill. Winking at my son and looking at his big, warm brown, excited eyes, I asked the waitress to please add the lonely lady’s meal and a tip for herself to our bill. I remember the waitress looked astonished and pointed to the woman and said “for HER?” We nodded yes, my little boy’s face beaming. My son and I giggled as we left the diner quickly. We couldn’t let the “lady” know who paid for her surprise meal. Our stomachs were happy, our hearts full and our faces were warm and radiant in the early morning sun. We raced down the steps, sharing a delicious secret, our hands still sticky and sweet, clasped firmly and lovingly, together.