Recently, at a local supermarket, a woman who had just gone through the checkout line in front of us wasn't walking away with her purchases. After the cashier scanned our items and told us our total, the woman turned to us and said, "It's on me." Stunned, we could only utter, "Sorry?" But she repeated, "I'm buying your groceries. Random act of kindness."
In our state of surprise, we thanked her as best we could, and she asked us, simply, to "take care of each other." We walked back to our car in near silence, enjoying the sensation of our reality shifting for a moment. We spent much of the evening speculating about what might have prompted the good deed.
It can be easy, especially during the holiday season, to give in to a vague, contemporary cynicism. We both work in the service industry; both of us have taken out student loans; and one of us is currently attending university. Existence in Asheville, particularly in the present lean economic times, can be tenuous. This stranger's benevolence served as a reminder that almost everyone, regardless of his or her financial means or abilities, has the potential to exert a tangible impact on another's life. And her actions extended far beyond just providing our dinner: The bag boy, as surprised as we were, exclaimed, "That made my day."
Utilizing Facebook to communicate what had occurred to our friends and family helped broaden the impact of this act of generosity, and served to remind us of the positive potential of oft-derided social media.
As we've reflected on how we reacted that night, we found ourselves saddened by how unexpected and surprising the event was: Generosity ought to be commonplace, not extraordinary.
As the holiday season draws to a close and we move into 2012, our wish for the new year echoes the sentiment expressed by our anonymous benefactor: Take care of each other. And if someone offers to buy your groceries, fill your gas tank or pay your parking ticket, accept the gesture with dignity and commit yourself to doing the same for someone else. Just as there is no shame in helping a neighbor, there is none in accepting an act of generosity.
— Morgan T. Neely
Melissa K. Allen