It seems the internet world is all about random acts of kindness these days. I think there have been always been kind people out there, lurking around. I remember, even as a kid, doing kind things for others. And, sometimes — if I was super lucky — even being on the receiving end of an unexpected nicety. We didn’t call it a “random act of kindness” back then, of course. We just called it “being nice”, but I suppose we weren’t so great at making up snazzy-sounding names for things, particularly since my childhood happened before the internet and cat videos. We were less clever back then.
But I wonder: Is it possible for a “random act of kindness” to be selfish? And, if performed out of a selfish motive, is it still randomly kind? Is it kind at all? Or does it become randomly selfish? Randomly selfishly kind?
I ask this because today didn’t start out as a stellar day. My daughter got to bed much too late last night, the excitement of her first band and chorus concert proving too much for her to handle. Because of this, we were severely late for school — like, I had to call the school to tell them we would be late so they didn’t send a truant officer looking for me. Yeah, that type of “late”. My beautiful, loving child with the sunny disposition and cheerful outlook on life was none of these things this morning. Once I managed to get her out of bed and headed into her morning routine, she grumped her way through the morning and entered school with the type of downfallen expression that really should herald the existence of a black raincloud floating just above her head. If she were a cartoon person, I am certain there would have been steam shooting out of her ears. Today was rainy and cold, which didn’t help matters much at all. I didn’t sleep well last night, so I awoke with a headache. I got drenched in a sudden downpour while walking the child-unit into school. Oh, and I broke a nail when my hand slipped on my wet car door handle. This, of course, ruined the manicure on which I spent a couple of hours last night.
So my litany of woe should give you some idea of the type of unhappy, miserable attitude I had as I pulled away from school this morning. I didn’t even have the energy to be mad at the universe. I felt tired and used up, and like none of this thing called “life” mattered any more. I decided to stop off at a favorite drive-through for some lunch on my way home, and I have to admit I spent most of my time waiting in line feeling pitiful and small. A gray mood to match a gray day.
As I pulled up to the window to pay, I told the employee, “I would like to pay for the person behind me, too. Would that be all right?” Honestly, I don’t know why I did it. I’m a very shy person. Interacting with strangers makes me feel awkward and afraid, which means a drive-through is a swampy mess of potentially horrible social interactions. I usually survive my drive-through anxiety by speaking as little as possible. And I never ask for anything unusual. I am too afraid of looking like a moron. Today, though, the words just came out.
As I was pulling away, after having paid for both meals, I glanced up, into the rearview mirror. I saw the employee who had helped me handing food to the woman in the car behind me. I saw her gesture toward my departing car, explaining, I suppose, that there was no charge. And, for just a moment, I saw the woman in that car smile.
And I felt … warm. And happy. And hopeful, once again. I’m not saying it was a perfect day. But it went from a rotten, horrid, awful day to something cut from a kinder, gentler cloth.
To you, the lovely woman in the car behind me at the drive-through today, I would like to say thank you. I don’t know who you are or anything about you. I don’t know what kind of day you had. I don’t know if you woke up this morning in the most awful mood ever … if your car didn’t start … if you got stuck in traffic and were late to work … if your dog chewed up your favorite designer heels … if your coffee spilled on your favorite blouse. Or, maybe, you had the best day ever, with clear streets and an easy commute to a job you adore. But, I do know I was having a rotten, toad-sucker of a day. And you turned that around for me, just by being behind me in line at that moment in time. Just because I got to glance into my rearview mirror and see you smile. For that, I am blessed and more grateful than you can possibly ever know.