As part of my season of giving, I asked the waitress if she could add the bill from the two police officers sitting in the adjacent booth to my tab.
Smiling, she told me that the couple by the window had already made this anonymous gesture. In turn, I asked the waitress if I could pay for that couple’s meal. That too, she said, had been taken care of. Looking at the two older women having breakfast across from me, I hoped that the waitress could add their bill to my tab – which she was finally able to do.
Without her knowing, I left a twenty dollar tip for the kind and patient waitress and then looked back at the dining room thinking of the small anonymous gestures that led most of the people there to eat for free. I smiled knowingly at the cashier who juggled these “I’m paying for that person’s breakfast requests,” suggesting we both knew that the world is a kinder, gentler place than we sometimes give it credit for.
A month earlier, I had made an equally simple, albeit somewhat grander, gesture. I was talking to my mom a few days before her birthday. As we were ending the call, I said “I love you” and she responded in kind, adding, “I miss you so much.” As she said it, I could hear her voice crack, indicating that a few tears would be rolling down her cheeks after she hung up the phone. Knowing that I don’t see my mom as much as she would like or I know I should, I resolved that I would pay her a surprise visit on her birthday. I couldn’t stay long as the trip would be between soccer games and work commitments but nevertheless I would drive the three and a half hours each way to simply give her a hug and take her out to breakfast.
The seven hours on the road was undoubtedly worth it, just for the look on her face as she opened the door. I gave her a hug that seemed to last forever. Tears again followed from her eyes but these of an altogether different variety.
Rationally it makes little sense that a room full of strangers would buy each other breakfast or that someone would spend seven hours on the road to only spend two at the destination. But gestures are often nonsensical. They are reflexive. We are just moved to express a feeling or our appreciation.
It would be understandable for some to read what I’ve written as an act of virtue signaling. Maybe it is. Regardless of motive, why wouldn’t we all want to signal our virtues more often. To share positive demonstrations of our character or morality. Who knows, perhaps like in the diner, it offers a signal to others to do the same.
After visiting my Mom, I knew that this one gesture would make her day, if not week. It certainly did mine.
These gestures, and I’m sure similar ones you’ve offered, serve as a reminder of what a good use of our money and time really looks like.
May a gesture, small or grand, find its way into your life this week.