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pay it forward (and keep it a secret)

December 12, 2013

tips-For-JesusI don’t always go to Starbucks, but when I do, someone pays for my coffee. Well, not every time, but it seems that way lately. We were out of coffee at home, so I dropped the kids at school and went to the long drive-thru line wrapping around the shop.

“Welcome to Starbucks. How can I serve you today?” She was cheerful, but not annoyingly so.

“Hey! I’ll take a grande non-fat peppermint mocha, no whip.” I felt like a pro.

“Can I add a personal cup for $1 extra? You can keep it, it’s dishwasher safe, and you get 10 cents off future coffee purchases if you bring it with you.”

Sure, why not. I like a travel mug, and it’s only a dollar. The dang coffee was $4 anyway.

After a shorter than normal wait, I got to the window, and the not-annoyingly-cheerful girl said, “Ma’am, your coffee’s already been paid for. Enjoy!”

I’ve heard of such things happening, but hadn’t ever seen it in real life.

“Oh! Wow. Well, can I pay for the person behind me (pleasedon’thaveahugeorder pleasedon’thaveahugeorder)?”

I handed her my card and proudly completed the good deed. The next in line only ordered a grande coffee, so their order cost less than mine. Had I done enough? I decided I had and moved on.

I’ve heard about things like this happening in restaurants and drive-thrus. It hadn’t happened to me, though. I’ll admit to the pressure of continuing the good deed chain, rather than silently thanking my donor and moving on with my day. I should pay for the person behind me. Why, though?

Should we keep it going because it’s our duty? We need to pay it forward? I guess that’s why we should. Wanting to simply do a good deed, without thanks or recognition, is much harder.

This time of year, we’re bombarded with ways to give. The red kettle wants our spare change, soldiers want new, unwrapped toys, angel tree requests must be filled, and canned goods collections are in every church lobby. It’s easy to do good things. It’s just as easy to keep walking, though. We have budgets. If we give to those people, there will be less on our own holiday table.

I think I believe in karma, though it’s tricky. According to online sources, the definition of Karma (mostly for Hindu and Buddhist use) is the sum of a person’s actions in this and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. So, if this is true, we should complete these acts of kindness, because the rest of our life depends on it. It’s not a bad thing to keep in mind, I suppose. A reminder to do good things. We want good things to come back our way.

It’s the random part that really challenges us. How many of you have done something nice for someone, without getting a thank you, and been a little miffed? I’m not talking about a thank you note for a gift. More like, you are there for a friend in need, and they don’t quite express their gratitude in a way that makes you feel appreciated.

Human nature tells us to seek approval. We crave it, usually. I don’t think it’s possible to turn that off, but what if our acts were truly random, like buying someone’s coffee without waiting to see how they react? The things that quickly come to mind all seem to include buying things, like dinner or gas.

A random act doesn’t have to break the budget. It could be as simple as pulling the neighbor’s trash can up from the street each week. But don’t tell them you did it. Can you do it without getting credit for your good deed?

This isn’t a new concept. Heck, there’s a movie about it even. I’m not claiming to have made it up. It’s a challenge. And it has to be random. Like, if someone randomly left a bottle of wine on my front porch, that would count, too. I’ll find a way to pay it forward. I’ll even share a glass. Cheers!

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